Shropshire maternity scandal: Families demand answers over 'cover up' investigation

Royal Shrewsbury Hospital Credit: ITV News Central

Furious families at the heart of one of the biggest NHS care scandals in history have slammed senior health bosses over delays publishing an investigation into a ‘cover up’ by hospital board members in Shropshire.

ITV Central exclusively revealed in January how NHS England had launched an investigation into the allegations, following admissions by the chair of the Shrewsbury & Telford Hospital Trust (SaTH) board that he had deliberately delayed and ‘softened’ a critical report in 2017.

This was being conducted separately to the independent review led by Donna Ockenden, which is now dealing with more than 1,500 cases of alleged poor care.

NHS England has repeatedly refused in recent weeks to clarify the current status of the investigation, stating: “There’s no further update at the moment.”

But documents written by John Lester, NHS England’s head of investigations, seen by ITV Central, reveal that the work was in the final stages in April, and confirmed as complete several weeks ago.

Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton have been at the frontline of the fight for justice for 11 years, after losing their newborn daughter Kate just hours after she was born.

And for them, they said, “enough is enough.”

Richard Stanton and Rhiannon Davies have been campaigning for years, after their newborn daughter Kate died in 2009. Credit: Family handout

“I just don't understand why we can't have clear communication, open and transparent learning from these situations that we flag over and over again,” Rhiannon said today. 

“No one seems to want to learn, everyone seems to want to cover up."

They have called for the Trust board chair, Ben Reid, to be removed from the post following his admission, made at a public board meeting in November.

He told the meeting that the trust had delayed publishing the damning 2017 report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) until the following year.

In the interim, the Trust also sent a delegation of staff to London to persuade the authors to write a more positive addendum regarding the improvements they claimed had been made, before finally publishing them both together in July 2018.

He told the meeting there had been attempts to "soften" the report's conclusions, describing it as a "sorry story".

Shrewsbury & Telford Hospital Trust board chairman Ben Reid.

This infuriated families, who filed a formal complaint accusing the Trust of “a deliberate and pre-meditated plan to cover-up and water down the significant concerns contained in the … report.”

"If he has surpressed the RCOG report of 2017, that is unforgiveable,” Richard said.

“That is a period of time when learning should have taken place at this Trust, when it needed it the most. Instead, potentially, patient safety has been put at risk."

The latest development comes after the chief inspector of hospitals, Ted Baker, warned NHS England that poor care was becoming “normalised” at the Trust.

A letter leaked to the Independent newspaper revealed SaTH was in danger of being placed into special administration for safety reasons - a move which has only been used once before by the Care Quality Commission, at the former Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, which faced concerns relating to hundreds of cases and was eventually dissolved.

The Independent’s health correspondent, Shaun Lintern, covered the public inquiry into Mid Staffs at the time.

He said the parallels between that and Shropshire were “worrying”.

"Lots of people hoped that after the MId Staffordshire scandal, when a lot of the changes were made as a result of the public inquiry, we would be better at stopping these kinds of systemic failures,” he said. 

“And sadly at the moment, the letter from Ted Baker suggests to me at least that the system is struggling to figure out how to solve a problem like Shrewsbury."

Richard Stanton and Rhiannon Davies have been campaigning for justice for more than years. Credit: ITV News Central

For Richard and Rhiannon, the ongoing safety issues at SaTH only highlight the need for transparency from those investigating the Trust.

“We've been campaigning with regard to maternity services for over 11 years now, and yet they are getting worse and worse,” she said. 

“It's absolutely diabolical. There has to be... just stop the line at this point. Because even the most basic patient safety is being compromised."

In a statement, interim chief nurse at SaTH, Maggie Bayley, said: “The Trust continues to work with NHS England and Improvement regarding the support that we need to continue our improvement journey.”

She said that changes at the Trust included recruiting a mental health practitioner to work alongside ward teams, strengthening the review system for serious incidents, and trying to embed a culture of what she called ‘learning from incidents’.

NHS England has been contacted for comment.