Dozens more cases identified at NHS maternity unit being investigated for baby deaths

'The scale of this could put Morecambe Bay into the shade'

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Friday 31 August 2018 19:27
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Failures in care at maternity unit may have led to dozens more deaths and cases of children left brain damaged
Failures in care at maternity unit may have led to dozens more deaths and cases of children left brain damaged

An NHS trust where the death or serious injury of mothers and babies has been under investigation could be expanded to cover dozens more cases as other families come forward.

At least 60 cases of brain injury, baby deaths and the deaths of at least four mothers at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust maternity unit in the last two decades are being looked at, according to reports in the Health Service Journal.

This is in addition to 23 cases where caused serious harm or death which led to the initial investigation being launched in 2017.

The scale of the issues has led to comparisons with University Hospitals Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, where a 2015 independent inquiry identified the avoidable deaths of 11 babies and one mother.

The trust has come out to challenge the accusations, saying the number of cases giving cause for concern was 40, and adding that in 23 of those, its internal review had found no evidence care failures caused harm.

However, families have said the trust’s findings cannot be relied upon to be objective. They are calling on health secretary Matt Hancock to widen the scope of the original independent inquiry, set up by his predecessor Jeremy Hunt, which is being led by senior midwife Donna Ockenden.

The most recent deaths are feared to have happened in December 2017, when a mother and two babies died in unrelated incidents.

The Department of Health and Social Care confirmed it had asked watchdog NHS Improvement to consider whether the review should be extended. But the HSJ reports one source close to the trust as saying: “The scale of this could put Morecambe Bay into the shade.”

Rhiannon Davies, whose daughter Kate died nine years ago, told the HSJ: “Unlike what I was led to believe in 2009 Kate was not the first avoidable death at the trust.

“Yet no one bothered to learn and so sealed her fate – and mine, and that causes me almost unbearable pain.”

She added: “There are lots more cases now and all that learning could be lost because things will be missed.”

Kayleigh Griffiths, whose daughter Pippa died in 2016 after midwives ignored signs of a serious infection, said the trust is “not open to change”.

“There are going to be more cases as families are coming forward,” she told the HSJ.

The Journal reports there have been six separate reviews into the trust since 2016, including the internal review looking at maternity care.

The trust defended its record and insisted its maternity unit was safe. Chief executive Simon Wright said: “The death of any baby is a terrible ordeal for any family.

“We take our responsibilities in reviewing these cases very seriously.

“To suggest that there are more cases which have not been revealed when this is simply untrue is irresponsible and scaremongering.

“This will cause unnecessary anxiety amongst women going through one of the most important times of their life and I would like to assure them that our maternity services are a safe environment with dedicated caring staff.”

Dr Kathy McLean, executive medical director and chief operating officer at NHS Improvement, said: “Our independent review will consider everything it can to ensure Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust is equipped to learn from the previous failings in its maternity and neonatal services.

“This includes continuing to examine the 23 historical investigations identified in April 2017, as well as investigations that have been highlighted since then.

“Working with CQC and others, we will ensure the trust has the right support in place to continue to improve its services for patients.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We take any patient safety concerns extremely seriously – we have asked NHS Improvement to investigate whether further cases at Shrewsbury and Telford should be considered as part of the Ockenden Review, as well as assurance that the Trust has taken steps to improve maternity services since these issues came to light in 2016.”

Additional reporting by PA

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