A leaked interim report has blamed a “toxic” culture at English hospitals that resulted in the deaths of 42 babies and three mothers and dozens of severe injuries in what is believed to be the worst maternity scandal in the history of the National Health Service.
The document, initially seen by The Independent, singles out the deaths and serious injuries of dozens of babies as evidence of 40 years of maternity care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust “that is toxic to improvement effort”.
The interim report highlighted that of the avoidable deaths of 42 babies, 22 were stillborn, three died during pregnancy, and there were 17 infant deaths at the trust. Three mothers also died. Of the avoidable injuries, there were 51 cases of brain damage or cerebral palsy, and 47 instances of substandard care.
Specific failures include babies being left brain-damaged because medical staff had failed to recognise problems during labour or due to treatable meningitis or B strep, while some died because staff did not correctly monitor heartbeats.
While failings in medical treatment were highlighted, the interim report revealed hospital staff expressing a shocking lack of compassion and care for bereaved parents. In some cases, staff got the names of the dead children wrong and “on occasions referred to a deceased baby as ‘it'”.
In another instance, a family was threatened with being asked to leave unless they could “keep the noise down” as they grieved over the news of their dead child. The mother of one deceased infant could not say a final goodbye after the child’s body was left for weeks to decompose following the post-mortem.
An NHS source told the news website: “I think you can say with absolute confidence this is the largest known maternity scandal in the UK — significantly larger than Morecambe Bay — and early findings show dozens of avoidable deaths.”
Until Shrewsbury and Telford, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS foundation trust was the country’s most notorious hospital trust for maternity care, with a 2015 report condemning the institution for the avoidable deaths of 11 babies and a mother.
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The Shrewsbury and Telford inquiry was initiated in 2017 by then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt after baby Pippa Griffiths died in 2016 following staff ignoring signs of an infection. While the original scope was 23 cases, it has expanded to more than 270, looking into hundreds of deaths and injuries going back to 1979.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, clinical negligence lawyer representing some of the bereaved parents Kay Kelly said what made these figures so extraordinary was “the sheer volume of them compared to other hospitals”.
Ms Kelly also remarked that “it’s been raised over various periods of time that they’ve said ‘lessons will be learned’ in various reports, and this has hit the news before, but the cases still keep on coming”.
On the four-decade toxic culture that contributed to the fatal practices, Ms Kelly said: “The sort of cases we’ve worked on over the years have suggested a failure to err on the side of caution. The trust used to be very proud of the fact that it had a very low caesarian rate compared to other hospitals, and sometimes I’ve wondered if they’ve paid the price for that.”
Kelly’s remarks are telling, given allegations that the hospital’s culture was very much anti-caesarean. In November 2018, Breitbart London reported that affected parents claimed that had their children been born with assistance, they may not have suffered oxygen-deprived brain damage. One mother whose son was stuck in her pelvis was said to have been “crying out of a c-section” during labour before medics intervened and delivered the child with forceps. While the child was not seriously injured, he was left with bruising on his head.
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