• Police launch investigation into series of baby deaths at Cheshire hospital
  • Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust alerted police after unexplained deaths
  • The investigation is focused on the trust’s neonatal unit which will remain open

Detectives are investigating a spate of baby deaths at a general hospital in the north west of England, it was announced today.

Up to 15 baby deaths at The Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust are due to be examined by Cheshire police along with six other non-fatal collapses.

The investigation has been launched after the trust contacted Cheshire police because of a higher number of baby deaths than would normally be expected in its neonatal services between June 2015 and June 2016.

The trust told HSJ today the investigation was focused on the trust’s neonatal unit, not its maternity service.

The trust told HSJ it had published the findings of an independent clinical review into neonatal services at the hospital in February carried out by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. This made 24 recommendations and included a case note review by an independent neonatologist who was unable to answer all of the questions regarding the cause of death for a number of babies.

In a statement the trust said: “The trust and its doctors have continuing concerns about the unexplained deaths and are very keen to understand that everything possible has been done to help determine the causes of death in our neonatal unit between June 2015 and June 2016.

“As a hospital we have taken the clinical review as far as we can. We have now asked for the input of Cheshire Police to seek assurances that enable us to rule out unnatural causes of death.”

The trust said its neonatal unit will remain open to women over 32 weeks in their pregnancy and that it was “confident the unit is safe to continue in its current form”.

Countess of Chester Hospital medical director Ian Harvey said: “We are deeply sorry for the further distress and heartache this will cause. Throughout this we have never lost sight of the families left bereaved by the loss of their baby, and they will continue to be our main concern.

“At every point where the hospital has been able to share information with families and the public, we have done so. Approaching the police is not something we have undertaken lightly. This is to ensure we have been completely thorough in understanding what has happened here and to get the answers we and the families so desperately want.”

Detective chief superintendent Nigel Wenham said today: “In May 2017, The Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust contacted Cheshire constabulary regarding neonatal services at the hospital.

“As a result, Cheshire Constabulary has launched an investigation, which will focus on the deaths of eight babies that occurred between that period where medical practitioners have expressed concern.

“In addition the investigation will also conduct a review of a further seven baby deaths and six non-fatal collapses during the same period.”

He added: “We recognise that this investigation will have a significant impact on all of the families involved, staff and patients at the hospital and the public. Parents of the babies are being updated on the investigation and will be supported throughout the process by specially trained officers. We are committed to carrying out the investigation as quickly as possible.

“The investigation is in its very early stages.”