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East Kent Hospitals: Years of Repeated Maternity Failings Uncovered

A damning report into the maternity failings of two hospitals run by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust was published on 19th October 2022 after an independent investigation was conducted into the maternity care given by the Trust between 2009 and 2020.

Concerns over maternity services provided by the Trust were prompted by the birth of Harry Halligan, who nearly died in 2012 at the William Harvey Hospital due to mistakes made by staff during his delivery. Whilst Harry’s twin sister was delivered without complications, staff were unprepared for the delivery of twins and Harry was delivered via a late emergency Caesarean section after failed attempts of a forceps delivery. Fortunately, Harry survived and East Kent NHS Trust later told the Halligan family that changes had been made since 2012 including "increased staffing levels, improved communication processes and new standards for obstetric care".

In 2014 and 2016, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) conducted a review into the maternity care provided by the Trust. In 2016 it found “significant problems” and a maternity improvement plan was introduced.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Trust has failed to implement major changes since then or learn from its mistakes. In 2017, catastrophic failings occurred when Harry Richford died 7 days after being born by emergency Caesarean at The Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital, following errors in his delivery and resuscitation at birth. An inquest into Harry’s death in 2020 found 7 gross failings in his care, including incorrect use of Syntocinon, a delay in delivery, inexperienced staff, an inadequate standard of resuscitation and a delay in resuscitation. The Coroner ruled that Harry’s death was “contributed to by neglect” and was “wholly avoidable” as he would have survived if not for the failings in the standard of care provided by the hospital. The Trust was prosecuted by the Care Quality Commission on two counts of unsafe care and treatment and was fined £733,000.

Following the tragic death of 15 babies under the care of East Kent NHS Trust between 2012 and 2020, the families affected called for an independent investigation into the Trust’s maternity services. The review, undertaken by Dr Bill Kirkup CBE, involved 202 families giving evidence in relation to the care provided at two hospitals run by the Trust, the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford and the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate.

The report makes for shocking reading as it was found that had care been given to nationally recognised standards, the outcome could have been different in 97 of the 202 cases assessed by the Panel, or 48% of these cases. It also found that if the appropriate standard of care was given, the outcome could have been different in 45 of 65 baby deaths, or 69% of these cases.

If you believe that the care of you or your child prior to, during or after birth was negligent, please contact our Medical Negligence team for a confidential initial discussion and advice.

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