East Kent Hospitals will be 'held to account' for maternity failings, says minister

Watch: Health Minister Maria Caulfield speaks to ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw in Canterbury

The NHS trust at the centre of a baby deaths scandal will be ‘held to account’ for its ongoing maternity failings, according to a government health minister.

Maria Caulfield made the commitment following a meeting with the families of babies who died at the East Kent Hospitals Trust because of substandard care.

In an exclusive interview with ITV News Meridian, after the event in Canterbury last night, Ms Caulfield said: “We want to work with the local Integrated Care Board, with the Care Quality Commission, and with the [East Kent] trust themselves - to ensure we’re supporting them and also holding them to account to make sure they implement these changes.”

The Women’s Health Strategy Minister added: “Patients here in Kent deserve the best possible care.”

Inspectors reportedly considered shutting the maternity unit at William Harvey Hospital, following a visit in January.

Her comments follow the downgrading of the maternity units at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital Hospital in Margate and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, following a CQC inspection in January.

The health watchdog judged them to be “inadequate”, months after an independent report laid bare the full scale of maternity failings at the trust over more than a decade.

Ms Caulfield spent two hours speaking to affected families at the private meeting on the campus of Canterbury Christ Church University on Thursday, 8 June.

It follows criticism of her initial written response to Dr Bill Kirkup’s report, which concluded last October that at least 45 babies could have lived if they’d received care in line with national standards.

Watch: Women who lost babies at hospitals in East Kent react to meeting the minister

Asked if the government will publish a full response to the Kirkup Report before the Parliamentary summer recess, Ms Caulfield said: “Well, that's our aim but we want to get it right as well. So, as soon as possible, really.

“But we want to make sure that the women and families who’ve given evidence to the report feel that we’re on the right track.”

Helen Gittos was at the meeting. Her daughter Harriet died at the QEQM Hospital, Margate, in 2014.

Speaking afterwards, Ms Gittos said: It was really good to hear her say that they are considering the recommendations of the Kirkup report much more seriously than we had been led to believe before and with some sense of urgency but also that that she will come and talk with us again about those recommendations and how they plan to deal with them before their final report is published and I feel really reassured by that.”

Managers at East Kent Hospitals say improvements have been made but there is still "a lot more to do". Credit: PA Images

Kelli Rudolph’s daughter died five days after being born at the William Harvey Hospital, Ashford, in 2016.

“I think there were really clear assurances from Maria Caulfield that she would seek to help families who have suffered a terrible injustice, whose children are terribly damaged by medical negligence at the hospital,” Ms Rudolph added.

Also at the meeting was Tanya Linehan, who lost baby Ashton at the William Harvey Hospital in 2012. She said it did feel “to some extent” like the affected families were “finally being listened to” but that the government needed to focus on how it can better support them.

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield, who was at the event, told ITV News Meridian: “I thought it was great [the minister] came down here, she hasn’t been in her post long, and I think she genuinely wants to engage with the families and listen very carefully to their recommendations and their experiences.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has added £165m of ongoing investment to the annual maternity budget since 2021, aimed at growing the workforce and improving neonatal care.

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