Maternity safety: Jeremy Hunt’s inquiry call follows series of poor-care scandals

Jeremy Hunt’s backing for a national inquiry into maternity safety in the NHS comes amid growing concern over maternity services.

Watchdog, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), has launched a criminal investigation into failings at East Kent Hospitals University trust after it was found guilty of neglect by a coroner examining the traumatic death of baby Harry Richford in November 2017.

Harry’s family have battled for more than two years to expose what happened to him, and accused the hospital of a cover-up after it claimed his death was expected and resisted informing the coroner.

A review of the trust’s maternity services by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 2015 predicted the failings that would happen in Harry’s birth two years later and heavily criticised a group of rogue consultants for failing to turn up to work.

East Kent Hospital told The Independent 138 babies had suffered brain injuries as a result of being starved of oxygen during their birth between 2014 and 2018, with 68 deaths of babies aged under 28 days old. Of those, 54 died within their first 7 days. There were 143 stillbirths.

In November a leaked report into poor maternity care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust revealed decades of concerns going back to the late 1970s with errors repeated time and again.

The report, by independent expert Donna Ockenden, who is looking at more than 900 cases of alleged poor care, found 42 babies and three mothers had died with more than 50 children suffering permanent brain damage and 47 other cases of substandard care.

The trust has paid almost £50m in compensation to parents whose babies died or were left with disabilities since 2006.

The Shrewsbury scandal was only uncovered due to a campaign by the parents of baby Kate Stanton-Davies, who died in 2009 after a catalogue of mistakes. The Ockenden review found failures to learn and act on previous errors meant babies such as Kate suffered unnecessarily.

Data showed the trust had one of the lowest caesarean and emergency caesarean section rates for NHS trusts in the country, with the trust having celebrated its pursuit of “normal births” — which critics said may have meant midwives and doctors waited too long to intervene in difficult births.

Across the country more than 1,000 maternity incidents occur every year.

The Independent has launched a campaign to improve maternity safety and has partnered with charity Baby Lifeline to call for the reinstatement of the scrapped maternity safety training fund and for a mandatory requirement for families to be involved in investigations of poor care.

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