25.11.2020

Scandal in NHS history that led to deaths of dozens of babies and mothers

Last year The Independent revealed the scale of alleged poor care at the West Midlands trust after a leaked secret report detailed how at least 42 babies and three mothers had died between 1979 and 2017, with more than 50 children suffering permanent brain damage. Since then the numbers are thought to have increased substantially, and the interim report was written before the number of families’ cases being investigated swelled to 1,200.

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A criminal inquiry has been launched into the NHS trust at the centre of the worst maternity scandal in the health service’s history, The Independent has learnt.

Officers are investigating alleged poor care at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, which is already at the centre of an NHS inquiry into at least 1,200 alleged cases involving the deaths of babies and mothers.

West Mercia Police confirmed it was looking to assess whether there was evidence of criminal actions by the trust or specific individuals after meeting with NHS chiefs and the chair of the independent inquiry, midwife Donna Ockenden, earlier on Tuesday.

Assistant chief constable Geoff Wessell from West Mercia Police said: “Today, 30 June 2020, we have met with NHS Improvement, The Department of Health and the independent reviewer to discuss complaints made against Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust in relation to maternity services and provision. The independent review is ongoing.

“We can confirm that a police investigation will be conducted to explore whether there is evidence to support a criminal case either against the trust or any individuals involved. The investigation is now live so we are unable to comment any further at this time.”

Rhiannon Davies, whose baby Kate died at the trust from avoidable errors in 2009, told The Independent: “I’m extremely grateful to the police for taking this significant step. I can imagine it has been very difficult for them to assess what is a uniquely challenging situation. I see this as a very important step towards potentially achieving accountability for those, like Kate, who were avoidably harmed at this hospital trust.

“As the police undertake their investigation, I hope they and the Ockenden Review team are given all the resources and support they need – because the work they are and will be doing is testing yet essential to ensure the NHS learns all lessons and is never allowed to repeat mistakes that cost so many families their futures.”

The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust was rated inadequate by the Care Quality Commission after widespread cultural and patient safety concerns that go beyond the trust’s maternity department.

Earlier this year Ms Ockenden said her NHS England team had received concerns from people who were patients at the trust as recently as 2019.

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She said at the time: “Many of the concerns we are looking at are amongst the most serious any of my team have seen in their entire careers.”

Concerns about poor maternity care at the Shrewsbury and Telford Trust first emerged after the death of baby Kate Stanton-Davies, who died in 2009, and Pippa Griffiths, who died just after she was born in 2016.

Their families learned there had been dozens more avoidable deaths and the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced an inquiry which was then later widened by his successor Matt Hancock as more cases emerged.

Since then the numbers of families raising concerns have continued to grow, outstripping any previous maternity inquiry.

Louise Barnett, chief executive at The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust said: “We are aware that a police investigation will be conducted by West Mercia Police to explore whether there is evidence to support a criminal case either against the trust or any individuals involved, following complaints made against the trust in relation to maternity services and provision.

“We will fully cooperate with the investigation.

“I would like to reassure all families affected that we are listening and acting on feedback.

“We are not able to comment further to avoid prejudicing the investigation.”

If anyone has any information in relation to the police investigation they can contact the police at MajorIncidentUnit@westmercia.pnn.police.uk or through the major incident public portal mipp.police.uk/operation/22HQ19D84-PO1 or by calling 101.

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