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Urgent action on maternity services could save 1,000 babies a year, says report

Written by on 06/07/2021

Maternity care in England requires improvement, a report by MPs says – and more needs to be done to reduce the numbers of deaths among babies and mothers.

The Health and Social Care Select Committee says urgent action is required to address staffing shortages and a “culture of blame” that prevents mistakes being admitted and lessons being learned.

It heard evidence that maternity services are not improving fast enough following a damning inquiry in 2015 that found a “lethal mix” of failures at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust led to the deaths of 11 babies and one mother.

A separate inquiry into maternity service at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust is under way, looking at more than 1,800 serious cases.

Harry Richford
Image: A NHS trust was fined £733,000 for failures that led to the death of Harry Richford

Last month, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust was fined £733,000 over serious failures that led to the death of baby Harry Richford in 2017, at Margate’s QEQM hospital.

The committee’s chair, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, said “although the majority of NHS births are totally safe, failings in maternity services can have a devastating outcome for the families involved”.

He added: “Despite a number of high-profile incidents, improvements in maternity safety are still not happening quickly enough. Although the NHS deserves credit for reducing baby deaths and stillbirths significantly, around 1,000 more babies would live every year if our maternity services were as safe as Sweden.”

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The report recommends the annual budget for maternity care in England should be increased by a minimum of £200m to £350m with immediate effect.

Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton have campaigned for improvements since their daughter Kate died in 2009 as a result of avoidable errors during her delivery.

“The recommendation for the significant increase in funding is absolutely welcome – whether the current health secretary will take the recommendation forward obviously we’ve yet to see,” Ms Davies said.

Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton

“With regard to staffing it’s one thing to understand the issue, but to solve it is quite something else. Where are you going to recruit all of these extra midwives and obstetric staff from?

“We know that for too long – for far too long – investigations have been woefully poor and have also been perhaps weighted on the side of a defensive culture from hospital trusts when they should be listening,” Mr Stanton added.

“I think questions really need to be asked about why this has been allowed to happen for so long.”

Sarah Andrews and her husband Gary are expecting the arrival of their second baby, while still mourning the loss of their first.

Sarah Andrews and Wynter Andrews
Image: Sarah Andrews and Wynter Andrews

Wynter Andrews was born by caesarean section at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham in September 2019. She died 23 minutes later.

An inquest found it was “a clear and obvious case of neglect”.

“She was healthy, there was no need for her to have died,” Sarah Andrews said.

“We’d been left in labour for quite a long time. We hadn’t had the correct monitoring that we should have had.”

Now Sarah is pregnant again, Gary says they are terrified they’ll lose another child.

“At a time when we should be enjoying a pregnancy… you don’t want to get too attached just in case,” he said.

Wynter Andrews' hand
Image: An inquest found ‘a clear and obvious case of neglect’ in the case of Wynter Andrews

The Care Quality Commission is investigating whether a criminal offence was committed by the hospital trust in Wynter’s case.

The family’s lawyer, Natalie Cosgrove, is representing over a dozen families affected by maternity failings at the same trust.

“It’s utterly exhausting for families,” she said. “They don’t know where to turn. All they want is simple answers.

“That can add to the grief, the frustration and the reasons why I believe that many families don’t go on to try and conceive and grow their family, because in the end when they get nowhere they blame themselves and that’s so unfair to them and just wrong.”

Gary and Sarah Andrews
Image: Gary and Sarah Andrews’ daughter Wynter died 23 minutes after being born

The chief executive of Nottingham University Hospitals, Tracy Taylor, said: “We apologise from the bottom of our hearts to the families who have not received the high level of care they need and deserve, we recognise the effects have been devastating.

“Improving maternity services is a top priority and we are making significant changes including hiring and training more midwives and introducing digital maternity records.

“We will continue to listen to women and families, whether they have received excellent care or where care has fallen short; it is their experiences that will help us to learn and improve our services.”

Sky News has approached the Department of Health for comment.

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