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Maternity concerns at 'baby deaths' East Kent hospitals NHS trust.


Hospital inspectors have raised concerns about the safety of maternity care at an NHS trust where dozens of babies died unnecessarily.

Health and care regulator, The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is threatening East Kent Hospitals trust with enforcement action to ensure patients are protected.

An independent review released in October 2023 found that at least 45 babies might have survived with better care at the trust.

A two-day unannounced inspection of the trust's maternity services was carried out by CQC inspectors last autumn (2022) and the regulator has written to the trust "to request evidence of the steps it is taking to ensure people are safe and protected from risk."

In a statement to the BBC, a CQC operations director, Deanna Westwood, said they would "review the trust's response to determine whether the use of our enforcement powers is required."

The warning comes a few months after the trust was severely criticised for its maternity care between 2009 and 2020.

An independent review, chaired by Dr Bill Kirkup, who has led investigations into several high profile public services failures, including the Morcambe Bay maternity scandal, found the trust had "covered up" the extent of its failures at two of its hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Margate and the William Harvey, Ashford.

While the inspectors have not said what patient safety concerns they found during their most recent visit, a BBC investigation in October 2022 found significant problems.

An internal report, written in August 2022 and obtained by BBC News, detailed seven areas that required "immediate remedial action", including: The use of a clinical assessment tool specifically relating to sepsis, foetal heart-rate monitoring, high risk or deteriorating patients and the criteria for when "virtual" antenatal appointments are appropriate when compared with face-to-face reviews.

Other areas for action were the methods and culture relating to escalating concerns and clinical handovers and poor documentation

The report, written by interim director of midwifery, Carol Drummond, noted that many of the problems were previously highlighted in a report by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch in February 2020 and that "it is concerning that, despite large scale improvement plans, there appears to be limited impact on the issues identified."

At a meeting in December 2022, the trust's board agreed that they did not meet the criteria for a scheme that aims to promote maternity safety across the NHS in England.

The maternity incentive scheme, run by NHS Resolution, gives a financial reward to trusts that meet all the initiative's 10 safety standards.

The trust has previously falsely claimed to have met the criteria and been forced to repay more than £2m.

The trust has also been fined more than £700,000 for failings in relation to the avoidable death of a baby boy, Harry Richford, in 2017.

The independent review found there had been "gross failures" of team working, with some staff acting as if they were responsible for "separate fiefdom, cultivating a culture of tribalism.”

Chief nursing and midwifery officer and deputy chief executive of East Kent NHS, Sarah Shingle, said: "We continue to work hard to improve our maternity services, including our work to listen to and act on feedback from those using our care. Although a number of changes have been made, we know there is a lot more to do.

"While the CQC recognized some of the improvements as a consequence of that work, they also identified some areas of concern following their inspection last week.

"We are taking immediate action to respond to the CQC and address these concerns to ensure we are delivering the high-quality care we and our patients expect.