NHS Hospital Pleads Guilty over Baby Death in Prosecution First

Pretem baby - stock photo Premature little baby in an incubator at the neonatal section of the maternity
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A National Health Service hospital group has admitted in court the failure to provide safe maternity care to Sarah Richford and her baby son Harry, who died seven days after delivery, in the first prosecution of its kind.

Representatives from East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust pleaded guilty to the charge at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court on Monday, in relation to the inadequate care at Margate’s Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital, which resulted in the “wholly avoidable” death of baby Harry in 2017.

Figures from the trust admitted to failing to provide for care and treatment in accordance with the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014, with the Press Association reporting it was the first time a watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, had charged an NHS trust following safety failures.

Details of the maternity care of Mrs Richford revealed that there were concerns around Harry’s delivery at around 2:05 am on the day he was born but the doctor did not perform the emergency caesarian section until 3:32 am, at which point the boy was, the inquiry found, “to all intents and purposes lifeless”. Delays in helping him breathe then resulted in brain damage. Harry died on November 9th, 2017, at just seven days old.

Tom and Sarah Richford then spent three-and-a-half years fighting for justice for their son, with the inquest only be ordered following persistence from the family. Originally, the NHS trust had claimed that Harry’s death was “expected”.

Following the admission of guilt, Mrs Richford said: “Although Harry’s life was short, hopefully it’s made a difference and that other babies won’t die.”

“If somebody had done this before Harry was born he may be alive today,” she added, according to the BBC.

This was not the first instance of shortcomings in the maternity wards of the trust, with a Royal College report having raised serious concerns over the maternity services two years before Tom and Sarah’s son died.

There is also an ongoing independent review looking into the failings surrounding the deaths of 15 babies at the Kent hospitals; however, The Independent claimed in January 2020 that as many as 68 babies had died at the trust, as well as there being 143 stillbirths and 138 babies suffering from brain damage related to oxygen deprivation between 2014 and 2018.

The review is being headed by Dr Bill Kirkup, who also oversaw the inquiry into the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust failings, which found the deaths of one mother and 11 babies was as a result of a “lethal mix” of failures in maternity services.

Sentencing will take place on June 18th, but given the nature of the prosecution, “this can only be dealt with by way of a fine”, said District Judge Justin Barron adding: “I do have an unlimited fine available to me.”

The Care Quality Commission was given the power to charge hospitals in 2015 following the Stafford Hospital care scandal, where years of abuse and neglect led to the deaths of hundreds of patients between 2005 and 2008.

Shrewsbury and Telford is another NHS hospital trust being examined following reports of avoidable deaths and injuries at their maternity wards, with an inquiry looking into cases where almost 1,900 babies and mothers may have been harmed, including the deaths of at least 42 babies and three mothers.

A leaked interim report from Shrewsbury and Telford in 2019 blamed a culture “that is toxic to improvement effort” at the trust, with an NHS source saying at the time that it could be “the largest known maternity scandal in the UK”.

It is not just the very young who have been victims of systemic failures at NHS hospitals. As of March, police are reviewing some 15,000 death certificates of those who died at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1987 and 2001. A 2018 inquiry had found that the hospital had overseen the “institutionalised practice of the shortening of lives” of older patients, resulting in the deaths of 456 seniors.

Several people, including one former nurse, had claimed that “euthanasia was practised by the nursing staff”, with findings revealing staff had given patients strong opioids intended to ease the pain of dying people, despite the victims being sent to the Hampshire hospital for convalescence or rehabilitative care.

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