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Southwark Maternity Commission

Meet the panel

Read the biographies of the Maternity Commission panel members and find out about their experience in maternity care. 

  • Councillor Evelyn Akoto (Co-chair)
    Councillor Evelyn Akoto, a Black woman with mid-length black hair, wearing a cream jacket over a green top and black trousers
    Councillor Evelyn Akoto

    Councillor Evelyn Akoto is Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing at Southwark Council. First elected in 2014, she served as a Deputy Cabinet Member from 2016 and has been a Cabinet Member since 2018 – when she led on Community Safety and Public Health. She currently leads on:

    • our public health approach
    • our partnership with the NHS
    • working with statutory bodies to reduce health inequalities.
    • adult social care
    • our work to ensure older people and disabled people are fully included in the life of the borough

    In addition, she is the co-chair of the new ICS local care partnership board, Partnership Southwark and also a sub-group co-chair of the South London COVID-19 Preventing Mental-ill Health Taskforce, led by SLAM.

    Evelyn has worked in government since 2009 and in the health sector since 2000.

  • Professor Dame Donna Kinnair (Co-chair)
    Professor Dame Donna Kinnair, a Black woman with short grey hair, wearing a green cardigan over a black top and skirt
    Professor Dame Donna Kinnair

    Donna has been a champion for women and children throughout her working life. In 2015 she was a part of the National Maternity Review, which published Better Births: Improving Outcomes of Maternity Services in England.

    Her current roles are:

    • Trustee of the Burdett Trust
    • non-Executive Director of East London Foundation Trust and The Royal Free Hospitals
    • Maternity Champion for those hospitals

    Her previous roles include:

    • General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) until June 2021, delivering the RCN’s strategic and operational plans and promoting patient and nursing interests on a wide range of issues, throughout the recent COVID-19 pandemic  
    • Director responsible for policy and practice, including working with international nurses and academics
    • Clinical Director of emergency medicine at Barking University Hospitals Trust
    • Executive Director of Nursing, Southeast London Cluster Board
    • Director of Commissioning, London Borough of Southwark and Southwark PCT
    • Strategic Commissioner for Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Health Authority’s Children’s Services and community services

    Donna advised the PM’s Commission on the future of Nursing and Midwifery in 2010 and served as nurse/child health assessor to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry. She was made a DBE in 2008 for services to nursing.

  • Jacqui Kempen
    Jacqui Kempen, a white woman with long blonde hair, wearing glasses, a black top and dark green trousers
    Jacqui Kempen

    “My name is Jacqui Kempen. I am the Head of Maternity for south east London Integrated Care System (ICS) and the Local Maternity and Neonatal System (LMNS). I started working in the NHS over 32 years ago as a student nurse. I qualified and worked as a staff nurse before going on to train as a midwife.

    After working as a midwife in various roles - my last as an inpatient maternity matron, I joined SEL LMNS as a project manager I moved on to the Head of Maternity position in 2021. I continue to work as a midwife on a regular basis.

    I have an interest in public health and have completed a master’s in this subject. I have a passion for ensuring women and birthing people have the most up to date information to support them in making decisions about their care, and that care is accessible and equitable for all that need it.”

  • Sandra Igwe
    Sandra Igwe, a Black woman with long black hair and a baby bump, wearing a long cream dress
    Sandra Igwe

    Sandra Igwe is an impassioned advocate, dedicated to achieving health equity and dignity for Black mothers and birthing people.

    She is Chief Executive of The Motherhood Group, a leading organisation supporting the Black maternal experience through community events, training, peer support, policy, campaigning and more. Sandra intimately understands the gaps and barriers mothers of colour face in accessing quality, culturally competent maternity care.  

    Under her leadership, The Motherhood Group runs impactful national events like the Black Maternal Health Conference UK, convening stakeholders to address systemic racism in the field. They provide a unique perspective, bridging community needs with policy recommendations. as well as Black Maternal Mental Health Week UK. Sandra also co-chairs Birthrights' National Inquiry into racial injustices within UK maternity care.

    Sandra has been listed by both Vogue UK and Forbes as an ‘Influential Woman of the Year’. She is the author of My Black Motherhood: Mental Health, Stigma, Racism and the System. She has been a keynote speaker for organisations including Facebook (META), Dove, and Nike Women.

    With extensive experience uplifting marginalised maternal voices and driving institutional change, Sandra eagerly brings her expertise to the Southwark Maternity Commission. She believes authentic collaboration across community members, providers and policymakers is vital to illuminating experiences of inequality and charting an equitable way forward for Southwark's birthing families. Sandra is committed to ensuring the Commission's findings lead to meaningful commitments and reforms, honouring the basic human rights and dignity of all local mothers.

  • Omar Campbell
    Omar Campbell, a Black woman with long black hair, wearing a light blue suit over a white top
    Omar Campbell

    Omar is a dedicated advocate for maternal health and well-being. She brings extensive experience and diverse expertise to the panel discussion. She is committed to fostering meaningful dialogue and exploring innovative solutions to advance maternity care practices and policies.

    With a background as a qualified teacher, she began her career 21 years ago in the borough of Southwark. Working in a number of settings including local libraries, supporting mothers and babies at one o’clock clubs, and mother and baby units across the borough. She was often struck, through her role as a teacher working within special schools and alternative provisions, by how many mothers spoke about their perinatal experience, and how they felt it had had an impact on their child’s development and educational outcomes. It was then that she recognised how important a positive birth experience was to mother and child. 

    After giving birth to both her children at King’s College Denmark Hill and having been born there herself, she became dedicated to improving maternity care through co-production with service users. She became involved with the Maternity Neonatal Voice Partnership (MNVP), going on to become the Lead for the MNVP and a Service User Rep for the London team. She is deeply committed to addressing the challenges and inequalities faced by expectant mothers and improving access to high-quality maternity services for all. She has helped to implement an innovative infant feeding scrum pilot project, worked on the gestational diabetes clinic and is dedicated to amplifying the voices of black and Spanish speaking maternity services users with the establishment of dedicated working service user groups.


  • Cheryl Rhodes
    Cheryl Rhodes, a white woman with mid-length blonde hair, wearing a black dress
    Cheryl Rhodes

    “Hello, I'm Cheryl, and I represent Home-Start Southwark as a member of the new Maternity Commission. With a 25-year career dedicated to serving women, children, and families facing inequality, my commitment to improving lives has remained steadfast.

    In my current role, we provide emotional and practical help to women throughout the perinatal period, as well as ongoing support until their children start school. We see on a regular basis how women from diverse ethnic backgrounds have a negative experience of pregnancy and birthing, especially when these challenges intersect with issues like poverty, immigration status, English as a second language, and mental health problems.

    At Home-Start, we're committed to advocating for and allying with those women who experience the effects of racism and prejudice. We believe in empowering them, valuing their journeys, and giving them a voice and agency over their future.

    My own core values of integrity, respect, social justice, and equality guide this work, ensuring that the voices of women, children, and wider families are listened to and acted upon. I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to contribute to the crucial work of this commission.”

  • Dr Benedicta Agbagwara-Osuji
    Benedicta Agbagwara-Osuji, a Black woman with glasses and long black hair, wearing a black jacket over a blue dress
    Benedicta Agbagwara-Osuji

    “I am a Nurse and Midwife with over 20 years of experience in Healthcare. I have a diverse background in research, extensive clinical practice and policy development within the Nursing and Midwifery field.

    I have held various leadership roles in the NHS including Quality and Patient Experience manager, Consultant Midwife - Public Health, Head of Midwifery and Lead Nurse for women’s Health.

    I was awarded a Doctorate degree in Health Studies Research at King’s College London. The focus of my research was antenatal predictors of early mother-to-infant bonding. Highlighting the importance of early mother to infant relationship in child development.

    Currently, I am a Director of Midwifery and Gynaecology Nursing at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, an elected Board member of Royal College of Midwives and CQC Specialist Advisor for Maternity.

    As a Senior midwifery leader, I am driven by a vision of a maternity care system where every woman regardless of background or circumstances receives equitable care and experience throughout their pregnancy journey. I have a profound commitment to reducing inequality in maternal outcome, ensuring that all families have access to a service that is safe, responsive and high quality.”


Page last updated: 02 May 2024


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