March 4, 2020

What you need to know about East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust

East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust, and in particular their Chief Executive Susan Acott, was under pressure recently following the death of Harry Richford in November 2017.

Baby Harry died at just seven days old at Margate Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Following delays and significant failings during his delivery, Harry suffered catastrophic brain damage and sadly never recovered.

The ruling at the inquest

At the inquest into Harry’s death last week, the coroner found there was a delay of over 90 minutes to achieve delivery, the staff involved were “inexperienced”, and the whole scene was “chaotic”.

At the inquest, the coroner published 19 recommendations to include:

  • reviews at national and local level into how new locum staff are chosen and assessed;
  • the trust should ensure staff know when a consultant should be called at night, and should investigate how technology can be used to reduce difficulties of on-call consultants living some distance away from the hospital;
  • the trust should consider a review of procedures for all relevant staff to attend regular drills and simulation training events covering neonatal resuscitation;
  • a review of policies on the sharing of important investigations among all relevant staff so important learning takes place to prevent future deaths.

The Government’s reaction to the ruling

Following the ruling by the coroner that Harry’s death could have been prevented, the Government has announced an independent review into the situation at East Kent; in particular a further 26 deaths that have occurred in the maternity unit. This will look at preventable and avoidable deaths of new born babies to ensure that mistakes are not repeated and appropriate safeguarding is put in place to protect families.

My heart goes out to the families involved in this crisis. The birth of a baby should be a happy event for the parents and instead avoidable poor care has turned such events into a total tragedy.

Having had a baby myself, I have seen first hand the difficulties hospitals face with insufficient staffing, particularly “out of hours”. Your unborn baby will not wait for 9am on a Tuesday morning to make an appearance therefore, clearly, on-call services need to be reviewed to ensure patient safety.

I would highly recommend any parent-to-be contacts the maternity unit they intend to deliver at to look around before their baby arrives. Ask the midwifery team questions you may have such as what happens when you first go into labour, will I have a designated midwife, how many women does each midwife care for at any one time, are their medical consultants or will I need to be transferred to another department, and what happens if it is the middle of the night. Make sure you familiarise yourself with where you will be going and who you will be seeing as this will hopefully take some of the stress away when you do deliver your baby.

I will be watching closely for the conclusions following the independent review at East Kent.

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