Women’s health Minister to meet families to give update on government response to East Kent maternity failings investigation report

Maternity services

Minister for women’s health strategy Maria Caulfield MP will provide an update to affected families on the government response to an independent investigation into maternity failings at QEQM and William Harvey Hospitals which found 45 baby deaths could have been avoided.

The Minister attended a meeting held in Canterbury last month to speak with many of those whose babies had died at QEQM Hospital in Margate and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

The meeting came after criticism of the initial government response to the independent inquiry led by Dr Bill Kirkup.

NHS England and NHS Improvement commissioned Dr Bill Kirkup in 2020 to carry out an independent review into the circumstances of the maternity deaths at the East Kent Hospitals Trust sites in response to a concerning number of avoidable baby deaths.

Issues with maternity were brought into the spotlight following the death of baby Harry Richford at Margate’s QEQM Hospital in 2017 after a series of errors.

An independent report said he might have survived had there not been a delay in resuscitation at his birth that caused irreversible brain damage.

Some 200 families came forward to the Kirkup review over the preventable deaths of their babies.

Helen Gittos, pictured during her pregnancy, and Andy Hudson suffered the loss of their daughter Harriet in 2014,

Among those affected were Helen Gittos and Andy Hudson who said they were “treated dismissively, contemptuously and without a desire for understanding” throughout pregnancy, labour and then the tragic death of their baby Harriet.

Harriet was born on August 3, 2014, at QEQM and died just days later on August 11. Her case was one of those reviewed in a Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists review of the service in 2015. Harriet was a full term baby and healthy but died after sustaining a brain injury during her birth.

The couple said they wanted the Trust to put restorative measures in place and for Trust chief executive Tracey Fletcher to meet them and commit to work with families involved in the investigation to help ensure change is long-lived.

The couple praised the Richford family whose tenacity prompted the investigation to be held.

‘Significant harm’

The Kirkup report found that between 2009-2020, the timeframe under review, that: “those responsible for the services too often provided clinical care that was suboptimal and led to significant harm, failed to listen to the families involved, and acted in ways which made the experience of families unacceptably and distressingly poor.”

The Panel found that had care been given to the nationally recognised standards, the outcome could have been different in 97, or 48%, of the 202 cases assessed by the Panel, and the outcome could have been different in 45 of the 65 baby deaths, or 69% of these cases.

Numerous other failings were highlighted in the review.

A statement to Parliament from Maria Caulfield in March said work was being carried out with relevant bodies and further information on how recommendations are being implemented would be outlined this Spring.

However, many, including Dr Kirkup, felt the response did not go far enough.

New meeting

At the meeting last month the MP spoke to affected families and it was agreed they would meet again to discuss a draft of the government response.

That meeting will now take place on July 19th via Microsoft Teams. It is likely the recommendations will be published when Parliament returns after the summer recess.

Maternity services rated inadequate

In May the Care Quality Commission (CQC) told East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust that it must make immediate improvements to its maternity services following an inspection in January which saw the service’s rating drop from requires improvement to inadequate.

Tracey Fletcher, Chief Executive, East Kent Hospitals, said the Trust had responded immediately to safety concerns, adding: “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.”

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