Baby death families told there were 'failings in leadership' at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust maternity services

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

The Government has said there were "failings in leadership and governance" at an NHS trust under investigation following a number of possibly preventable baby deaths.

East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust confirmed in January there had been at least seven preventable baby deaths in their hospitals since 2016.

Last month an inquest found the death of Harry Richford, who died just seven days after he was born at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate was "wholly avoidable".

His parents, Sarah and Tom, say they had gone into the hospital with "absolute trust".

Kirsty Stead, whose son Reid Shaw was stillborn in November last year at Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital, believes he would have survived if she had been asked to go to hospital sooner after complaining of severe pain and that her son was moving excessively.

However she says she was told over the phone to take paracetamol and go to sleep.

The following day she called the hospital to tell them that her son had now stopped moving.

She was admitted into hospital but by 7pm Reid had died.

"You don't realise, I suppose, whether you've had three children or five children, when they're put in your arms, that's when you realise that this real, this is actually happening," Ms Stead told ITV News.

"After he was born and I came round and I started to think about what was going on, and they were saying to me, they couldn't understand why this was happening, he was not unhealthy, I was not unhealthy, that's when the anger set in...if I had not got such an unprofessional opinion over the phone then he could have been here."

The trust commented: "We have started a thorough investigation into the care that Kirsty and Reid were given and we will involve Reid's parents fully and honestly in the investigation as it progresses."

  • Kirsty Stead's son was stillborn in November last year at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital:

Following an investigation, the Government has announced "immediate actions" to deal with issues in the maternity service at the Trust - and will also launch an independent review.

In a statement to the House of Commons of Thursday, Nadine Dorries said an investigation by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch found "a number of safety concerns" at the Trust's hospitals, including:

  • The availability of skilled staff, particularly out of hours

  • Access to neonatal resuscitation equipment

  • The speed with which patient concerns are escalated up to senior clinicians and obstetricians

  • Failings in leadership and governance.

The health minister added: "It is clear that the challenges at East Kent point to a range of issues [...] But it would be wrong to speculate that there is one single cause."

  • Iris Crowhurst's daughter Jessica was stillborn in September 2011 at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital:

A range of measures are being introduced in a bid to improve services at the Trust, including sending an "independent clinical support team" into the hospitals.

It follows investigations into the trust by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) and Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Expressing "deepest sympathies for the patients and families of those affected" by the failings at the Trust, Ms Dorries said: "When things go wrong that lead to harm, it is devastating for all concerned."

Dawn Powell's son Archie died on 14 February 2019 at just four-days-old - she is not convinced services at the Trust are "under control".

Archie became ill shortly after birth but, despite showing all the symptoms, medical staff failed to spot he was suffering from a common infection.

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust has "wholeheartedly" apologised to "every one of those families we have let down".

In a statement issued on Thursday morning, a spokesperson for the Trust said: "We know that we have not always provided the standard of care for every woman and baby that they expected and deserved, and wholeheartedly apologise to every one of those families we have let down.

"We are taking all necessary steps to provide safe care and we are treating the recently raised concerns about the safety of our service with the utmost seriousness and urgency."

The trust recognised that needed change in its maternity service has not taken place quickly enough, and said it is doing everything it can to improve its culture.

  • MP describes 'most harrowing phone call' with parents of baby who died:

Following Ms Dorries' statement, Sir Roger Gale put an urgent question to the house, prompting the announcement there would be an independent review.

The MP for North Thanet described a phone call with parents who "lost their own child under similarly tragic circumstances" to that of Harry Richford. The MP said it was "the most harrowing phone call I've ever taken in 36 years in this House of Commons."

He added: "These parents need to know that the failures in protocol, that the failures in clinical judgment and that the failings in management have been addressed."

Credit: ITV News Meridian

The Government's response did not call for a change in leadership at the Trust, for which it faced criticism in the house.

Labour shadow health minister Justin Madders said: "Given the trust's failure to deal with these identified failings at the first opportunity there must surely be questions about the local leadership?"

Ms Dorries replied: "We look at implementing absolutely everything we can to make sure the safest environment possible exists."