• DHSC says quality investigators are now examining 26 maternity “cases” at East Kent
  • Government stops short of public inquiry 
  • Move follows inquest last week finding baby’s death at trust was “wholly avoidable”

The Care Quality Commission and the Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch have been told to produce reports on a scandal-hit maternity service within two weeks.

The Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement HSIB was examining 26 individual maternity “cases” at East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust, although the department was unable to immediately clarify whether all of these cases involved deaths.

However, the government has stopped short of a public inquiry into services at the trust, despite mounting evidence of concerns over newborn babies. 

Earlier this month, HSJ revealed a Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists report from February 2016 highlighted multiple problems with the trust’s maternity services, including on-call consultants not attending.

Last week, an inquest into the death of Harry Richford, who died a week after his birth at the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Hospital in Margate, found neglect had contributed to his “wholly avoidable” death.

Derek Richford, Harry’s grandfather, said today the family were “disappointed” the government has not supported their call for a public inquiry and they hoped it would reconsider over time.

A DHSC spokesman said “options for further action will be assessed” once the HSIB and CQC had reported.

HSJ understands the family has already been contacted by a number of other parents who have lost a baby in East Kent. An inquest into another neonatal death is also scheduled for March. In this case, a mother in labour had to be taken to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford because the QEQM maternity unit was closed.

The area’s clinical commissioning groups — Thanet, South Kent Coast, Ashford, and Canterbury and Coastal — are reviewing child deaths which have been recently reported by the media to check whether the trust appropriately reported these as serious incidents.

Papers for the CCGs’ governing bodies said there had been 59 neonatal deaths at the trust since November 2016, of which 15 were treated as serious incidents. Reports into six of these have been completed but the remainder are still open.

The papers also said East Kent was a “high outlier” for neonatal deaths among its comparator group in the national MBRRACE data for 2017, which looks at maternity outcomes.

Last week, the CQC carried out an unannounced inspection of maternity services at EKHUFT, which runs the units in both Margate and Ashford. It has yet to decide whether to prosecute the trust for failing to provide safe care or treatment resulting in harm, or significant risk of avoidable harm. 

Harry Richford’s inquest heard of “chaos” in the delivery room as he was born in November 2017, an inexperienced locum registrar on only his third shift at the trust carrying out a complicated delivery, and failed resuscitation attempts until an anaesthetist stepped in. Harry was deprived of oxygen and died a week later. The trust did not initially report his death to the coroner.