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East Kent maternity scandal: Inquiry begins after Independent reveals years of errors leading to baby deaths

‘I will lead an investigation that is fair, thorough and independent,’ says inquiry chair

Kate Ng
Friday 24 April 2020 18:00 BST
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Dozens of mother and baby deaths condemned as maternity inquiry escalates to largest in NHS history

An investigation into East Kent Hospitalsmaternity services scandal exposed by The Independent is now underway amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Led by Dr Bill Kirkup, who chaired the inquiry into deaths of mothers and babies in Furness General Hospital in Barrow-in Furness and Morecambe Bay Hospital, the inquiry was first ordered in February.

NHS England said the inquiry would look at preventable and avoidable deaths of newborn babies and make recommendations for improved care in other maternity services.

East Kent Hospitals became the centre of a maternity scandal after The Independent learned of dozens of baby deaths caused by numerous catastrophic failures in their care in January.

The Independent also revealed that more than 130 babies suffered brain damage as a result of being starved of oxygen during their birth over a four-year period.

Dr Bill Kirkup said while the coronavirus lockdown is ongoing, his investigation will make full use of modern technology to conduct “crucial” meetings with those affected by the hospitals’ poor maternity care.

He said: “I will lead an investigation that is fair, thorough and independent. I am beginning by introducing myself to families so their concerns can form a central part of my investigation.

“Face-to-face contact with those affected will be a crucial part of how this investigation is to proceed. Clearly, the current public health crisis makes that impossible, but use of modern technology means the important work I will lead can – and should – get started immediately.

“I hope any families with concerns about the maternity services they received in this period will feel able to let me know so that the investigation can be as thorough as I intend it to be,” he added.

Dr Kirkup, a former obstetrician and gynaecologist, also led an inquiry into maternity services at Morecambe Bay hospital, where 11 babies and one mother died avoidable deaths between 2004 and 2013.

It was the worst ever maternity scandal in the history of the NHS until November 2019, when The Independent also revealed a series of baby and mother deaths under the failed care of staff at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust (SATH) over a period of 40 years.

The deaths of at least 42 babies and three mothers were singled out and exposed in a leaked internal report.

East Kent’s Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate is also under investigation by the General Medical Council following the death of seven-day-old Harry Richford in 2017. Harry died as a result of a severe lack of oxygen and brain damage after a delay of more than 25 minutes in helping him breathe.

The trust has apologised for failures in his care and accepted it had failed other women and their babies earlier this year. Safety concerns at the trust date back to at least 2014, and The Independent has seen evidence of repeated errors at the trust.

It recorded 81 separate incidents in maternity care between 2014 and 2018. In that period, there were 68 deaths in babies under 28 days old. Of those, 54 died within their first seven days.

A spokesperson for East Kent Hospitals said at the time: “We recognise that we have not always provided the right standard of care for every woman and baby in our hospitals and we wholeheartedly apologise to families for whom we could have done things differently.”

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