Solicitors for grieving parents whose baby boy died at QEQM Hospital just 27 minutes after his birth have accused the East Kent Hospitals Trust of ‘deliberately’ obstructing inquest proceedings into his death.
Nick Fairweather, of Fairweathers Solicitors LLP, said at a pre-inquest review at County Hall, Maidstone, today (August 14) that it was ‘a disgrace’ that the Trust had failed to submit required documents on time leading the hearings into baby Archie Batten’s death to proceed ‘at a snail’s pace.’
A row broke out between Mr Fairweather and Hospitals Trust representative Paul Spencer, who said Mr Fairweather’s ‘rant’ was not the case and the accusation was ‘not accepted.’
However, Coroner Sonia Hayes said the Trust had ‘not complied’ with her directions and she understood the ‘high feelings of the family,’ adding “The Trust are bound to be criticised if they do not do what they are asked to do.”
Mr Fairweather said parents Rachel Higgs and Andrew Batten may even ‘opt out’ of the hearings altogether after already going through the ‘gruelling experience’ of the pre-inquest reviews and now expecting a baby in January.
A full inquest may now not be held until the Spring to avoid the expected arrival date – although December was also suggested, dependent on the parents’ views, with Coroner Hayes saying she hoped to ‘expedite’ the proceedings.
She also praised Rachel and Andrew, saying they had been ‘reasonable throughout’ with this hearing being the first time they had vented frustration at the time proceeding were taking, adding that the delay did ‘come from the Trust.’
East Kent Hospitals Trust has admitted baby Archie would have survived without any injury had it not been for “sub – standard care” and “had delivery taken place earlier.”
Events leading to the death of Archie Batten
Baby Archie died on September 1, 2019, after first time mum Rachel was denied admission to QEQM;s maternity department and instead told to drive to William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
The QEQM unit was ‘diverting’ after a decision was taken to close due to a lack of bed spaces.
Rachel had tried to gain admission to the maternity ward that morning but was directed to the Maternity Day Care Centre where she was examined twice over a two hour period but refused admission on the basis that she was not in active labour.
Solicitors say she and Andrew were assured a room would be kept available for her when she re presented at any time.
But before they left the hospital, at 2.35pm a decision was taken to close the QEQM Maternity Unit, leaving patients needing their services having to ‘divert’ to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
After a show and intense contractions, Rachel phoned the QEQM shortly before 5pm only to then be told that the unit was shut and that she should attend the William Harvey.
This was not a practicable option as the couple did not believe Rachel could make the journey to the William Harvey, and feared her having to give birth on the side of the road.
They were told that a community midwife would be sent out to see her.
Fairweathers Solicitors say when that first midwife arrived shortly after 5pm she found Rachel was fully (9cm) dilated with bulging membranes. She was told to start pushing and Andrew excitedly texted family members that baby would be arriving soon.
Over the next 5 hours, Rachel was seen at home by a succession of four midwives. Fairweathers LLP say they did not appear to appreciate that she had reached the second stage of labour and the baby needed to be delivered and that her membranes were only ruptured at a very late stage with a failure to keep proper records of the foetal heart rate.
An ambulance was called at just gone 10pm and Rachel was taken to QEQM. Maternity services there had become operational again a couple of hours earlier but the couple say there had been no communication between the hospital and the midwives.
By the time Rachel got to the QEQM Archie was delivered but was born in a very poor condition.
He managed to breathe independently for a short period but this was not maintained. Resuscitation attempts were ended and he died at just 27 minutes of age.
The Trust admitted the ‘sub standard care’ in a letter sent to the solicitors in July.
‘Number and range of mistakes’
Rachel said: ““We put our total faith in the Trust and the professionals looking after us. The number and range of mistakes that took place are difficult to comprehend. I am pleased that the Trust has made this formal admission.
“Beyond this, however, we are determined to get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong and why, through the ongoing inquest process, the Kirkup review and otherwise. This is because, like the other families affected by the blunders at the QEQM, our overriding ambition is that genuine, lasting and effective changes are made so that other families do not have to suffer in the same way in the future.”
‘Dignity and resolve’
Nick Fairweather added:“I pay tribute to Rachel and to Andrew for their dignity and resolve in dealing with the aftermath of losing Archie so tragically in circumstances that were wholly avoidable.
“It will be a lasting tribute to his memory if we can truly get to the bottom of why maternity services at this hospital were so substandard in most aspects of their operation over such a prolonged period. We hope that what went wrong can be the blueprint for putting things right.”
Rachel and Andrew are one of 12 families Fairweathers represent in cases of babies dying or suffering life-long injury at Trust hospitals.
Investigation and review
Concerns were raised about the safety of maternity services at the Trust at the inquest this January into the death of baby Harry Richford, who died at Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in 2017. A number of families then came forward over the ‘preventable’ deaths of their babies.
The troubled maternity service has been subject to a report by the Health and Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) which found recurrent patient safety risks at the Trust maternity sites at QEQM Margate and William Harvey Hospital and is subject to a review commissioned by NHS England and NHS Improvement into the maternity and neonatal services. The investigation is being led by Dr Bill Kirkup and is expected to cover the period since 2009. Dr Kirkup expects to report in 2021.
Archie Batten is one of the cases that has been referred to the Kirkup review.
Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine, who sits on the authority health scrutiny committee, says serious questions need answering about Trust maternity services.
She added: “ Public concern is mounting about infant mortality at East Kent Hospitals. It is thought that as many as 40 families have now come forward with concerns.
“Regardless of an accurate number significant concern about risk persists and I firmly believe it’s time for a public inquiry in addition to the Kirkup review.
“We are seeing many families suffering as far too many babies are dying or are damaged. These are avoidable deaths and injury. One baby death is tragic but so many under these circumstances is a travesty.
“Women and babies need to feel completely safe in our maternity services. A public inquiry would be able to focus on establishing exactly what is going wrong, get to the root causes and highlight the systemic lessons that need to put into place to prevent similar incidents in the future.
“We urgently need to secure lasting change and establish maternity services that are safe and fit for purpose across East Kent. Services that the public can trust.
“At QEQM we have seen the “wholly avoidable” death of baby Harry Richford in 2017. But what has compounded the Richford family’s sense of loss, are attempts by the trust to cover up just how badly wrong care was at QEQM.
“Now we see East Kent Trust admit liability for causing the death of baby Archie Batten. There have been seven preventable baby deaths that we know of. We need to fully know the true scale of the problems. The families concerned deserve clarity and answers.
“I have written to Kent County Councillor leader Roger Gough and Nadine Dorries MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety) to seek a meeting to discuss East Kent’s maternity services.
“My thoughts are with the families. We need to all support them by insisting on answers for them.”
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said: “We are truly sorry for the death of Archie and we offer our heartfelt condolences to Archie’s family.
“We are making improvements to our maternity service, with help from leading maternity experts, to ensure that we provide safe services for all mums and babies.
“We are fully committed to making any further changes recommended by the coroner as a result of Archie’s inquest.”