Mother whose baby was stillborn at scandal-hit Kent hospital was 'dismissed'

  • ITV News Meridian's Joe Coshan spoke to Tanya Linehan following the latest CQC inspection report

A mother whose baby was stillborn at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust, where 45 babies died needlessly because of substandard care, says she felt "belittled", "dismissed" and has described it as the "worst experience you can imagine".

Tanya Linehan was overdue, at 41 weeks, in 2012 with baby Ashton. She had been feeling unwell and had concerns about how swollen she was.

She went to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent but was told by midwives that it was "fairly normal" at that stage.

Tanya said she went to the hospital "a couple of times" but was "always dismissed" and told she was "overexcited and exaggerating things".

Instead, she visited her GP who wrote a letter to the hospital to say she needed to be seen as she was "really unwell".

Even then, she was turned away after having a sweep. Later that day, when she was at home, she felt no movement.

She went straight back to the hospital and was told the baby had no heartbeat.

Tanya's labour continued for 18 hours and she was told she needed to have an emergency delivery. Ashton was stillborn on 5 November 2012.

Ashton was stillborn on 5 November 2012. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Tanya said: "It felt very chaotic. It felt as if I was being belittled a lot of the time and that’s something that I’ve really struggled with because you end up questioning yourself, whether you did the right thing.

"But essentially I was just a pregnant mum waiting to have my baby and I was trusting people that have been doing this for a long time, experienced people, and you put a lot of faith in that and it went against me for trusting them.

"It’s the worst experience you can imagine, you have everything ready, everyone's got expectations, even people you’re not that close with will ask 'where’s the baby' and you have to go through it over and over.

"Even now, years later, when people say 'how many children do you have?' I have an awkward feeling inside, do I say three? Do I say two? It's very strange.

"Being in that hospital, I was very unwell, I had spent days asking them to help me.

"I wasn’t helped and then I ended up with no baby, and because I was so unwell, I had to stay in for two nights on a ward. I nearly lost my own life."

Tanya was turned away by midwives at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Ashton is one of 45 babies who should have lived if they'd received adequate maternity care between 2009 and 2020 at East Kent Hospitals Trust.

That was the conclusion of an independent investigation led by Dr Bill Kirkup in October 2022.

Tanya said: "All of these years I have known that Ashton should have lived and that it was due to negligence and people not doing things correctly - not looking after me as a patient, not caring for us as they should have done.

"So it was really good to have that confirmation from a whole panel of people, presented in black and white, for people to see that I was correct. But at the same time, it is really difficult to know that for 10 years, a lie had been maintained."

In the latest CQC report, the East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust has had its maternity services downgraded to "inadequate" with the health watchdog saying the quality of care has got worse.

ITV News understands the health watchdog considered shutting the unit at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford following the damning inspection.

Tanya said: "It seems a fair conclusion given all the things that have been found but it isn't feasible because there's nowhere else to have your baby and it can be a really anxious time.

"It's a lovely time but it's scary. You're bringing life into the world so you need to know that these people are on hand to help you, so if it was closed down where would we go instead?

"We just need to invest in it really and take the time to make it better and it is possible but we just need to make sure it happens."

ITV News understands the health watchdog considered shutting the maternity unit at the William Harvey Hospital. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Inspectors found that vital resuscitation equipment wasn't always easily accessible, day care facilities were "poor" and "chaotic", while some fire exit doors weren't working properly.

Phil Linehan, Ashton's grandfather, said: "You'd imagine that from October/November of last year, everybody in the work situation would be trying their very best to make it great.

"The report comes in and says second eyes are not being put on things, equipment that should have been calibrated, servicing that hasn't been done. This shows that there's been no change.

"We want to believe in the leadership, we're getting some very positive things from the leadership but we need everybody to buy into it and our feeling is that to make it safe for the community is that they make it a beacon.

"Maternity now needs to be a beacon, and we don't feel that.

"We know the effort is being done, cultural changes need to be in, but it needs to be quicker. We need to believe in it."

Dr Bill Kirkup's highly-critical report into maternity care in East Kent over more than a decade.

The Care Quality Commission report follows unannounced inspections in January of the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford and the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (QEQM) Hospital in Margate.

East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust says that staff are "determined to improve services for patients" and that a number of changes have already been made.

However, there's a lack of faith among families that all staff at the Trust truly grasp the scale of change required.

Phil Linehan, Ashton's grandfather, said: "We need a real demonstration from the Trust that things are changing and it's been targeted at three years, but that's too long.

"Some real simple changes, cleanliness of equipment, servicing of equipment, mothers feeling believed in and when they walk away they say 'that was a fantastic experience' and not 'wow I got away with it'.

"Delay, denial and deceit and we get that all the time.

"I believe that the Trust hasn't done enough for the mothers that were poorly treated, the babies that weren't born, the babies that suffered have been ignored, swept under the carpet and there needs to be more than just a personal apology, more must be done."

Tanya said: "I feel like there’s great intentions there, sometimes it feels a bit disconnected.

"There are some really great ideas and great leadership however the people delivering the babies, need to be on board with it all.

"There needs to be a thread of this belief of change right the way through the organisation.

"I feel like the community has got to have that faith that it will happen because we don’t have many other options, that's our one place for delivering babies."

East Kent Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust also runs the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate. Credit: ITV News Meridian

In a statement, the Chief Executive of East Kent Hospitals, Tracey Fletcher, said: "I am sorry that despite the commitment and hard work of our staff, when they inspected in January, the CQC found that the Trust was not consistently providing the standards of maternity care women and families should expect.

"Our staff are determined to improve our services for patients. The CQC reports recognise the compassion and kindness they have shown to women and families and the outstanding practice of the service in proactively listening to and seeking feedback from every person who gives birth with us about what we can improve.

"We recognise that, despite the changes that have been made to the service so far, there is a lot more to do to ensure we are consistently providing high standards of care for every family, every time.

"We are continuing to work hard to improve the culture and multi-professional teamworking highlighted by Dr Bill Kirkup through the independent investigation into our maternity services, including implementing ‘civility saves lives’ staff training.

"I am grateful to the families who are helping us as we seek to make these improvements and to our staff, for their commitment."

In response to the findings, the trust said it made immediate changes to ensure better access to and regular checking of emergency equipment.

Among the other changes are electronic foetal monitoring alerts for staff, new dedicated foetal heart monitoring midwife, increased cleaning of the unit and the equipment.

It's understood that the trust’s maternity units are being closely monitored by the CQC and NHS England.

In January, the trust management warned that changing the culture of the organisation could take three years, but insisted important progress had already been made.

An internal report to the board in February set out a plan to fundamentally transform maternity services.