Tonight, on BBC One at 9pm, Michael Buchanan will be reporting for Panorama about the repeated failings in maternity care at hospitals in Shropshire.
Many babies died or were left with life-changing injuries as a result of a significant number of failings in the care provided by hospital staff under Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.
The BBC refer to this as one of ‘the biggest scandals in the history of the NHS’ and Donna Ockenden, the Chair of the Independent Maternity Review comments that ‘these are amongst the most serious cases’ she has seen in her career.
An official inquiry is currently ongoing into what specifically went wrong at the Trust, with the official report into the findings of the inquiry due to be published next month.
The cases being investigated cover stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and babies born with brain injuries. Initially, 23 cases were being reviewed, however, now the care of 1,862 babies has been carefully examined by a specialist review team.
The interim report published in December 2020 noted that in many of the cases, the Trust did not investigate at all following the birth or instead carried out an internal procedure rather than applying the national framework. This prevented lessons from being learned from the tragic deaths and circumstances.
In one case, a baby was delivered following an emergency caesarean section following a lengthy labour. Medical staff used the incorrect equipment in attempts to resuscitate the baby and she sadly died 21 minutes post-birth. Despite admitting its error, the Trust failed to accept criticism of its maternity care at the inquest into the baby’s death, held in April 2003. An expert witness had commented at the inquest that the baby’s need for resuscitation ‘arose from incompetent management of her mother’s pregnancy and labour.’
The Trust held a reputation for higher than normal natural births and in 2003 parliament raised concerns that child birth was becoming over-medicalised, with too many women undergoing caesarean sections. The Royal Shrewsbury Hospital was actually praised at the time for having caesarean levels at half of the average number across England. The inquest considered whether there was an inbuilt policy within the Trust in trying to achieve natural births in as many cases as possible.
A further issue identified by the review panel is repeated issues with properly monitoring the baby’s heart rate, resulting in either death or severe and life-changing injuries.
Concerns have also been raised regarding a ‘blame’ culture across the Trust – a possible tendency to attribute failings to individual members of staff not following guidelines, rather than taking the wider view of considering underlying factors and potential staffing issues across the midwifery department.
Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust is not the only trust under scrutiny – independent investigations have also been ordered into maternity services in Cumbria, East Kent, Nottingham and South Wales.
Since 2017, just 1% of maternity services in England have been rated as outstanding by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Last week, NHS England wrote to all NHS Health Trusts, advising them to no longer limit the number of caesarean sections given.
Farleys Solicitors have represented many families who have tragically lost babies in similar circumstances to those explored in tonight’s documentary. If you too have lost a baby and have been informed that an inquest will be called, our specialist inquests team are available to offer you the advice and support you need.
Our solicitors will do everything within our power to assist you at this extremely difficult time and to ensure the inquest delivers the answers you require, which may go some way to assist you in dealing with your grief. Call the team today on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry online.