NHS boss apologises after criticising family of baby who died in hospital

‘They are saying all the right things but it does feel like they are only saying them now because they’ve been caught,’ says bereaved father

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 30 January 2020 13:08
The family of baby Harry Richford have published an independent investigation into his care that proves he was failed by staff
The family of baby Harry Richford have published an independent investigation into his care that proves he was failed by staff

The head of an NHS trust at the centre of a maternity scandal has been forced to apologise after comments emerged in which she criticised the family of a baby who died at the hospital.

Susan Acott, the chief executive of East Kent Hospitals University Trust, has had to apologise to Harry Richford’s grandfather after it emerged she said he was trying to “undermine the reputation of the entire hospital” in a letter to local MP Roger Gale in June last year.

She also wrote to Harry’s parents on Wednesday apologising for the care he received as well as the way the family were treated after his death.

The family made public on Thursday an independent investigation into Harry’s death, carried out by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB), which vindicates their concerns about what happened on the night of his birth.

Harry died a week after being born at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital in Margate in November 2017. An inquest last week concluded there had been a catalogue of failures and neglect that contributed to his death.

In the letter sent to Tom and Sarah Richford on Wednesday, Ms Acott said she had been “moved to hear” the couple’s statement after the inquest and apologised to them “unreservedly”.

She acknowledged the trust had not acted correctly after Harry’s death and his parents had not received the “professional courtesy” they deserved in initial responses.

She also offered Harry’s parents the chance to help the trust improve its care.

Last week, The Independent revealed there had been 68 baby deaths, 143 stillbirths and 138 babies who suffered brain damage after being starved of oxygen at the trust between 2014 and 2018.

The government is facing calls for a public inquiry but has so far resisted and instead asked the Care Quality Commission and HSIB to report back in two weeks.

Harry’s father, Tom Richford, told The Independent: “They are saying all the right things but it does feel like they are only saying them now because they’ve been caught because of the inquest and what we know now.”

Responding to the previous letters and comments by the trust, he said: “It just felt like we were a nuisance and not a family that was grieving. We were treated like we were being a pain last year.”

He said the family wanted to publish the HSIB report because neither the coroner or HSIB were willing to make it public. “We wanted to show the lack of care we received. It fully vindicates what we as a family have been saying,” he added.

The HSIB investigation lays out in detail how Harry was failed by staff and how his mother, Sarah, was never seen by a consultant despite trust guidelines stating they should have been present on the ward and during her emergency caesarean section.

A 2015 report warned the trust that a group of consultants was regularly failing to attend the wards and this needed to be tackled.

In its report, HSIB said: “From the point of transfer to obstetric led care the mother was not seen or reviewed in person at any time by a consultant obstetrician for the duration of her labour.

“The trust guideline stipulates that there should be a consultant ward round at 18:00 hours before the consultant leaves the hospital. At 17:45 hours, the mother was seen by the registrar and a plan was documented in the notes, but not countersigned by the consultant. The mother and father confirmed that they did not see the consultant at any time during the labour.

“There is no record of consultant attendance at the 18:00 hours ward round or at any time that day and because of the time lapsed from the day of the incident until the interviews, staff could not remember if the ward round took place.”

Delays in resuscitating Harry and ensuring he was receiving oxygen caused him to suffer catastrophic brain damage.

HSIB investigators said junior members of staff lost “situational awareness” and because the different teams did not train together it meant staff did not speak up about the delays in resuscitation.

The report concluded: “The complexity of the birth, difficulties with resuscitation and subsequent hypoxic insult that culminated in the baby’s death should have prompted earlier referral to the coroner.”

In a statement, Ms Acott said: “I would like to take this opportunity to apologise once again to Mr and Mrs Richford and their family and to express to them my deepest condolences for their loss.

“I’m truly sorry if the words in my letter have added to the Richford family’s pain.

“I was responding to a specific point raised by the family’s MP and reflecting that it’s important that local people have the greatest possible faith in all the services provided at their hospital.

“I fully accept with great sadness that as a trust we failed Harry Richford and his family in many ways. I apologise if my words have caused them distress.”

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