London: A damning report Wednesday found that 45 babies who died at two British hospitals might have survived if their care had been up to standard, in the latest UK maternity scandal.
Dr Bill Kirkup who led the official independent investigation described his findings as “stark” and “shocking”.
“Had care been given to the nationally recognised standards, the outcome could have been different … in 45 of the 65 baby deaths” examined, he told reporters.
Kirkup said there had been “failures of professionalism, of compassion and of kindness” at the hospitals run by East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust in southeast England.
“Women were not listened to … they were disregarded and that led directly to instances of harm” including baby deaths, he said.
The doctor, who seven years ago published similar findings after probing baby deaths at another group of hospitals in northwestern England, said lessons had once again not been learned.
“On at least eight separate occasions over a 10-year period, the trust board [at East Kent] was presented with what should have been inescapable signals that there were serious problems.
“They could have put it right. The first instance was in 2010 but they didn’t. In every single case they found a way to deny that there were problems.”
‘This cannot go on’
The shocking findings about the state of some of Britain’s maternity services come on top of two other similar scandals and another probe that was announced in May.
The East Kent investigation was sparked by the death of baby Harry Richford, who died seven days after he was born by emergency caesarean in November 2017.
An inquest into his death concluded that he died due to seven gross failings amounting to neglect.
Kirkup revealed similar findings in 2015 after investigating maternity services at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.
Speaking ahead of the release of Wednesday’s report, he said it was deeply concerning that the same problems seemed to be reappearing time and time again.
“When I reported on Morecambe Bay maternity services in 2015, I did not imagine for one moment that I would be back in seven years’ time talking about a rather similar set of circumstances and that there would have been another two large, high-profile maternity failures as well on top of that.
“This cannot go on. We have to address this in a different way.
“We can’t simply respond to each one as if it’s a one-off, as if this is the last time this will happen. We have to do things differently.”
The report follows another published in March that found over 200 babies could have survived if they had been given better care at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust in central England.
Babies were stillborn, died shortly after birth or were left severely brain-damaged over a 20-year period from 2000 to 2019, according to that review.
It found that nine of 12 mothers who died during the period could have had “significantly” better treatment, and others were made to have natural births when they should have been offered caesarean sections.
The findings prompted an apology in parliament by the then Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
Two months later in May it was announced that Donna Ockenden, who led the Shrewsbury and Telford inquiry, would also chair a review of services in Nottingham in central England after numerous families there also came forward.
Kirkup’s earlier inquiry into failings at Morecambe Bay NHS Trust concluded that a “lethal mix” of failures led to the unnecessary deaths of 11 babies and one mother.
It said “dysfunctional” and “substandard care” had been provided by staff “deficient in skills and knowledge” and made 44 recommendations including a national review of maternity care.
The health minister at the time, Jeremy Hunt — now finance minister — said the changes in the culture of maternity services needed to be made “so these mistakes are never repeated”.