Like so many people, each morning I start the day by reading the news. Each time I read about yet another maternity unit failing, it fills me with sadness. Today, more grieving parents have been sharing their stories of poor maternity care in East Kent Hospital Trust, resulting in avoidable injuries and the loss of their babies.
Bill Kirkup CBE produced a report in relation to the maternity and neonatal services in East Kent, over an 11-year period, and in October 2022, he published the Report of the Independent Investigation, in which he also shared an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chief Executive of the NHS.
Within that letter, Mr Kirkup explained that “the death of a baby is a devastating loss for any family. As one bereaved mother put it, ‘When your baby dies, it’s like someone has shut the curtains on life, and everything moves from colour to darkness’. How much more difficult must it be if the death need not have happened?”
The review uncovered a “clear pattern” of “sub-optimal” care that led to significant harm to mothers and their babies.
Working within the medical negligence team, myself and my colleagues act for an increasing number of grieving parents, concerned that the standard of care has caused the death of injuries to their baby. We hear their stories and feel their sadness, as we guide them through the litigation, and help them seek answers.
In the news today, we heard how the East Kent maternity unit almost shut down in January 2023, over safety concerns. This comes two months after the publication of Mr Kirkup’s report, and the acknowledgment that the standard of care was putting mothers and babies at significant risk, reporting that the loss of at least 45 babies could have been avoided. It is not clear why simple safety changes have not been initiated by senior managers within the Trust in the weeks following Mr Kirkup’s report.
The BBC News have been speaking to parents affected by this woefully poor care. Helen Gittos explained to the BBC that her newborn daughter died in the care of the East Kent Hospital Trust, and that there were “fundamental” problems in her care and the care of her daughter. She should have a 9-year-old little girl sat by her side, and at that time the head of midwifery was so concerned about safety at the Hospital that she thought the William Harvey Hospital should be closed down.
Almost a decade on, inspectors of the Hospital Trust are still identifying significant failings in care, resulting in further avoidable injuries. After the Trust was threatened with closure by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), improvements in care were promised. The CQC decided to enforce weekly monitoring to improve patient safety, but since then the care has gone from “requires improvement” to “inadequate”.
The CQC’s director of operations south, Deanna Westwood, advises that the watchdog must now use “urgent enforcement powers” to “require immediate improvements” at the Trust. However, NHS England have had “maternity improvement advisors” in place for the past four years, yet these systemic and fundamental failings appear to be worsening rather than improving.
The East Kent Hospitals’ Trust Chief Executive, Tracey Fletcher, told the BBC:
“I am sorry that despite the commitment and hard work of our staff, when they inspected in January, the CQC found that the trust was not consistently providing the standards of maternity care women and families should expect."
Losing a baby in any circumstances is tragic, and knowing the care has been identified as inadequate, and has caused another avoidable loss, is devastating.
I sincerely hope that further interventions are made by NHS England and East Kent Hospital Trust, and that the CQC do see a significant improvement in patient safety, to prevent further baby loss and injuries, wholly due to substandard maternity care
Our specialist lawyers within our medical negligence department have acted for many families affected by baby loss and neonatal death and understand the need to be treated fairly and provided with answers.
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If you or your family have suffered because of medical negligence, we will help you to recover appropriate compensation and secure the future.