'Urgent conditions' imposed on East Kent maternity units at centre of baby deaths scandal

The majority of the new conditions cover the William Harvey Hospital. Credit: ITV News Meridian

The health watchdog has ordered a scandal-hit NHS trust to make a raft of urgent improvements to its maternity services, following an unannounced inspection. 

The Care Quality Commission says it identified a “number of concerns” and is using its “enforcement powers” to impose a long list of conditions on East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust.

Carolyn Jenkinson, CQC’s Deputy Director, said: “These [concerns] primarily related to the safety of the labour ward environment, including the availability of regularly serviced equipment, processes for monitoring women and babies whose conditions deteriorate and risks of cross infection due to poor standards of cleanliness.”

“Some of the issues identified are directly connected to the state of repair of the building… However, we have significant concerns about the ongoing wider risk of harm to patients and a need for greater recognition by the trust of the steps that can be taken in the interim to ensure safety and an improved quality of care.”

Dr Bill Kirkup's damning report found 45 babies could have lived if their care had met national standards. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Maternity services at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford and the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital (QEQM) in Margate have been under intense scrutiny for years, with an independent report by Dr Bill Kirkup concluding that at least 45 babies died needlessly because of substandard care over more than a decade.

The majority of the new conditions cover the William Harvey Hospital, following the CQC’s unannounced inspection of the maternity unit in January.

The watchdog has demanded managers bring in new “effective systems” to improve foetal heartbeat monitoring, safe staffing levels, delayed discharge and infection control.

The CQC has also asked the East Kent Hospitals Trust to provide it with monthly reports with data on equipment checks, staffing gaps, and delayed discharges. Inspectors also want to see evidence that weekly audits are being carried out of personal protective equipment and the “hand hygiene” of staff. 

The investigation looked at hundreds of cases at the QEQM in Margate and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

At the QEQM Hospital, the CQC has just asked for a new system to improve “monitoring the safety of the environment and equipment”.

The Trust has until Monday, 20 February, to implement the new systems across both hospitals and until Friday, 24 February to start providing the required monthly data reports. 

In a statement, Sarah Shingler, chief nursing and midwifery officer at East Kent Hospitals, said:  “We continue to work hard to improve our maternity services, including our work to listen to, involve and act on feedback from those using our care. Although a number of changes have been made, we know there is a lot more work to do.

“We take the latest concerns and action by the CQC very seriously. Our staff continue to work hard to improve our maternity services and we are taking further, urgent steps so that we can deliver the safe, high-quality care our patients and their families expect. A new dedicated fetal heart monitoring midwife has been appointed who will work alongside our clinical teams to ensure safe monitoring is consistently completed. This is in addition to introducing electronic alerts for staff when fetal monitoring indicates a risk to a baby or that a check is due. We have also increased medical presence to help safely triage women and babies and ensure there are no delays in treatment. We have increased the frequency of daily cleaning and have introduced daily checks on cleanliness and emergency equipment.“We are committed to giving the CQC and mothers, babies and families using our maternity services confidence and the high quality care that they need and deserve.”