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Further preventable baby deaths uncovered at East Kent Hospitals NHS

An investigation by BBC News has exposed more preventable baby deaths at the NHS trust which has already been criticised for its maternity services.

A total of four more families have come forward and said their babies would not have died if East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust provided better care.

The trust has apologised for the care provided in two of the cases and said they were investigating a third, however it has denied any wrongdoing in the fourth case. In two of the cases, the mothers said the actions of the trust left them feeling they were to blame for the deaths of their children.

The NHS's Healthcare Safety Branch is currently investigating 25 maternity cases at hospitals in both Margate and Ashford.

In January, the BBC revealed at least seven preventable deaths may have occurred at the trust since 2016. The government is due to receive a report into the 25 cases later, as well as a Care Quality Commission report from the January inspection .

Reid Andrew Shaw - November 2019

Mother Kirsty Stead called midwives at 01:10 on the day before her due date as she was in severe pain and her son was moving excessively, having previously reported two incidents of reduced movement. She says she was told to take paracetamol and get some sleep.

Kirsty rang Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital (QEQM) in Margate later that same day at 16:59 to say she had not felt her baby move for hours. She was told to come to the hospital, but by 19:00 the hospital said her son had died.

In a meeting last month, the hospital admitted there was no record of the call 01:10 and it was possible the person who answered was at the time looking after another patient and had failed to check Kirsty's medical notes.

Kirsty believes her son would have survived if she had been asked to go into hospital during that initial phone call.

"Things just went downhill and spiralled out of control so quickly that it's hard to actually think that it's real because it's all like a muddled up dream and not a nice one," she said.

East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust said: "We have started a thorough investigation into the care that Kirsty and Reid were given."

Freddie White - April 2016

In 2015, following IVF treatment, Nicola Grimmett fell pregnant for a second time.

Carrying twins, Nicola’s pregnancy was considered "high risk" due to the fact her first child was born by emergency Caesarean section.

At 35 weeks a doctor at the QEQM Hospital found the babies had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. This is a serious condition where one foetus is getting more of the blood supply from the placenta than the other.

Nicola did not see a consultant for two days after this was discovered, and it was a further day before she had a Caesarean section.

Hospital staff were not able to revive Freddie following the C-section, and the family feel he would have survived if he had been delivered earlier.

East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust said: "We accept that Freddie's death might have been avoided had we acted differently, and we wholeheartedly apologise for this."

Harriet Gittos - August 2014

Helen Gittos and partner Andy Hudson closely scrutinized the labour facilities in Margate prior to giving birth, after a traumatic experience with the birth of her son two years earlier.

She was not convinced they were safe, but her request to give birth at the hospital’s midwife-led unit was turned down due to her first birth being a Caesarean. Instead, the couple decided on a home birth near the QEQM Hospital in case of any complications.

Helen’s labour progressed slowly so she was transferred to the hospital. Despite being classed as a high-risk patient, she said she was left for more than an hour before seeing a senior doctor. Hospital staff then noticed that her daughter's heart rate was slowing and decided to perform an emergency Caesarean.

Harriet was born in a poor condition and she died eight days later.

Shockingly, Helen said she was told her baby's death was a consequence of her decision to refuse to have appropriate medical treatment.

"We at no stage declined any medical intervention whatsoever," she claimed.

East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust said: "We accept… that we could have done more to respond to [Helen Gittos's] wishes and help her labour in a calm, low-risk environment as much as possible."

Fletcher Aiken - August 2017

At just 28 weeks pregnant, Katy King said staff failed to believe she was in labour.

Her son Fletcher was born by emergency Caesarean section. He was weak, yet was breathing on his own at two days old.

Katy and her partner Jason were informed by staff that while Fletcher needed to stay in William Harvey Hospital in Ashford until he put on more weight, he should have been fit to go home in about four weeks.

However, their son became ill at nine days old and died aged just 13 days. He had suffered numerous seizures each day, leading medics to believe he had some unspecified genetic condition.

The family claim staff failed to spot he had developed a fungal infection and believe if he had been born at a hospital 40 miles away he would have been given the correct antibiotics from birth.

"We'll never know if he'd been given the anti-fungal medication, would he ever have got it [the infection]. It just has such a horrific effect on everyone," she said.

East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust said: "There was no evidence of any omissions in care. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is currently investigating the family's complaint."

"Wholly avoidable"

These new cases come as a coroner made 19 recommendations for improvements following the "wholly avoidable" death of a baby at the QEQM Hospital in 2017.

In a statement, East Kent Hospitals Trust it had set up a board sub-committee "to ensure we are complying with national safety standards and ensure we are implementing the coroner's recommendations fully and swiftly".

"We are deeply saddened by the stories of families who have suffered the death of a much-loved baby, and we are extremely sorry for their loss," it added.

Lesley Herbertson, Partner within our Clinical Negligence team, comments:

The loss of a baby, in any circumstances, will always be a devastating experience for the baby’s parents. However, to know or suspect that your baby’s death was due to the act or omission of the medical staff in whom you put your trust, at this very important time in your life, can only make the loss harder to bear. Of course, not every infant death at this Trust will be due to the fault of medical practitioners or hospital systems. Therefore, it is important that the specific facts of every case are properly considered, in order to establish whether unacceptable care led to each baby’s death. It would appear that such work is being done by the East Kent Trust and any internal investigations are being scrutinized by external bodies as well. The involvement of the NHS's Healthcare Safety Branch and the CQC is vital, bearing in mind the importance of reviewing and then improving standards of obstetric and neonatal care going forward. Families should not be experiencing such tragic losses as a result of substandard care in 2020.

Lesley is a Partner within our Clinical Negligence team, specialising in birth injuries. Should you wish to speak to Lesley about any aspect of this article or with regards to Clinical Negligence, please call 0800 027 2557 today, or fill out a contact form on the side of this page. Alternativly, contact Lesley directly here.