East Kent baby deaths: Families say progress 'too slow' year on from Kirkup report

Watch: ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw reports on a traumatic year for bereaved families and setbacks for an NHS Trust battling to restore its reputation

Parents of babies who died after failings at hospitals in East Kent say progress to improve the standard of care has been "too slow".

They have speaking a year on from the publication of a damning report into failings over a decade at hospitals in Margate and Ashford, which led to 45 babies dying unnecessarily.

Helen Gittos, whose daughter died in 2014, told ITV News Meridian: "Talking to people who are working with the [East Kent Hospitals] Trust, and from talking to people who have got recent experience of using the service, there really hasn’t been change, there really hasn’t been enough change at all.

"A year on, I can’t help but find that deeply dispiriting. I genuinely think that the right people in the Trust have not even grasped the main messages of the Kirkup Report, let alone thought about how to implement them properly."

  • Helen Gittos believes change is coming too slow for maternity units in East Kent

In October 2022, Dr Bill Kirkup published a report into maternity and neonatal services at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs maternity units at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (QEQM) Hospital in Margate and the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

Dr Kirkup said the treatment of many women and babies at the hospitals had been "deplorable and harrowing". Of 202 cases reviewed by experts, the outcome could have been different in 97 cases, the inquiry found.

Of the 65 baby deaths examined, 45 babies could have lived or may have lived if they had been offered nationally recognised standards of care.

Michelle Cudjoe, who took over as the Trust's Director of Midwifery in May, said her teams have made "huge strides in the right direction" over recent months.

“I have been a midwife for more than 25 years and in that time I have worked with many teams. What I have seen is a team who have come together as a result of that report and have a shared desire to improve," Ms Cudjoe said.

"There has been a real focus on listening to women and families. We know, when we read the report, that was one of the failings."

  • Director of Midwifery, Michelle Cudjoe, explains what has been done to improve safety

In July, government ministers published their full response, which included setting up a national maternity taskforce and a local oversight group. Both of these are chaired by the health minister and Lewes MP Maria Caulfield.

She says there are issues with student midwife numbers and infrastructure, but that NHS maternity units in East Kent are safer than they were a year ago.

She said: "It will take time to see those changes come through but I am pleased that there is some progress that has already been made in those short few months.

"We're meeting the teams who work in Margate and one of the particular issues for Margate itself is the infrastructure. Some of the infrastructure isn't ideal for the maternity unit, and we're working the local NHS trust to work out what bids for funding they can put in.

"There is a whole new team in place over the East Kent area. Things they've introduced, for example, is that six weeks after a birth the family will be contacted to get a view of their experience and what needs to change, and what support they need with a new baby. That never used to happen before."

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