Dozens of dead babies for lack of adequate care, a “culture of denial” and the voice of women ignored: a new scandal, the second this year in England, has revealed the extent of the failures in certain maternities. Seven months after a damning report on hospitals in the west of England, the doctor Bill Kirkup, along with other experts, gave his findings on the case of 202 people, mothers or babies born between 2009 and 2020 at two large maternity hospitals in Kent, south-east England.
65 preventable infant deaths
Forty-five infant deaths could have been prevented, out of a total of 65, according to his report. “What happened in East Kent is deplorable and poignant“said Bill Kirkup at a press conference.Deaths, injuries and other harms could have ended differently if the care had been given according to the standards in force at the national level.“, he added. The investigation was triggered after the death in November 2017 of Harry Richford, seven days after his birth by Caesarean section. A death caused, according to an inquest, by a series of failures, in the how a doctor”inexperienced” carried out the delivery, followed by delays in resuscitation. Of 17 cases of brain damage, twelve would not have occurred if adequate treatment had been provided. Twenty-three deaths or injuries of mothers could also have been avoided. , out of a total of 32.
Bill Kirkup condemned a culture of “denialin these public hospitals. One theme was repeatedly raised by the victims, according to the report:failure of hospital group staff to consider women when they raised concerns, when they questioned their care, and when they challenged decisions that were made about their care“. Experts found “glaring failures in teamwork“in these maternities, with”a lack of mutual trust“, of the “huge egos” in some obstetricians, “click behaviors” in some midwives.
Obstinate refusals of caesareans
A report “horrible” on a “terrible scandal“, tweeted Jeremy Hunt, the new finance minister, who served as health minister between 2012 and 2018. “The Minister of Health has my full support to transform the culture in treatment in maternity wards“. He thanked Bill Kirkup for this “new report“. Because it is the second investigation published this year. The previous report, in March, which concerned maternities in the west of England, had already pushed the government to apologize. It concluded that the deaths of more 200 babies in 20 years, the result of a stubborn refusal of caesareans and a lack of adequate care, could have been avoided.
Donna Ockenden, who led the survey, was commissioned in May to carry out another study in the Notthingham area of central England, after complaints from several families. In 2015, another report on maternity hospitals in the north of England concluded that a series of failures had led to the death of several babies, deaths which could also have been avoided. Bill Kirkup was already the author of the 2015 report.”When I made this report (…) I did not imagine for a moment that I would be there seven years later” to talk about the same subject, he said. “This cannot continue. (…) We can’t just pretend this is the last time this will happen“.
“My son will never be with me again”
Tracey Fletcher, the head of the hospital group targeted by the report, apologized, as did Health Minister Caroline Johnson. “I will never be able to forgive“, reacted on the BBC Bex Walton, whose son Tommy died in 2020. “What they do now won’t be enough cause my son will never be with me again“. Much remains to be done across England. According to figures published on Wednesday in the Daily Telegraph, the number of complaints for failures in maternity hospitals has increased by 25% in two years. In 2021-2022, there are had 1,243 compared to 1,015 in 2019-20.There are around 600,000 births a year in England.