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Investigation into cluster of NHS baby deaths

18th May 2017

According to a BBC investigation, there have been at least seven avoidable baby deaths in less than two years at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.

Following which, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has asked NHS England and NHS Improvement, the regulator, to contact the families involved in the deaths, to make sure that they have been properly investigated.

Many of these deaths are thought to be a result of a failure to monitor babies’ heart rates during labour, which can lead to their brains being starved of oxygen if action is not taken to speed up the baby’s delivery.

The reports state that in many of these instances, it was felt that parental concerns were ignored.

In one such case, the BBC reports that Jack Burn was born in March 2015 but died within hours, of hypoxia and Group B Strep.

His mother, Hayley Matthews, said that during her 36-hour-long labour at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, she was refused a caesarian section several times. Instead, she had a natural birth wherein her son's shoulder was trapped. By the time Jack was born, he was blue and died shortly afterwards.

In a separate incident, Kelly Jones said that despite repeatedly asking to be assessed properly, staff ignored her pleas. She was so unhappy with the care that she tried to discharge herself. Sadly, her twins, Ella and Lola, were stillborn in September 2014.

The Times reports that a letter from the Trust to Ms Jones says that its investigation “shows that both babies had died from severe hypoxic ischemia [oxygen starvation to the brain] contributed to by delay in recognising deterioration in the foetal heart traces and the missed opportunities for earlier delivery”.

Ms Jones is reported to have told the BBC that: “The midwife came in crying, saying, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry’. Too late, damage is done. My girls are gone. Because they couldn’t be bothered doing their job.”

Sadly, these cases above are just two of the seven that are believed to have been avoidable. For many parents who have had to suffer through the loss of a child, particularly if it was found to be avoidable, they’ll want to understand why this was allowed to happen, and will rightly demand that something change as a result.

Unfortunately, despite Ms Jones receiving a letter in June 2015 which promised improvements in heart rate monitoring, two months later, Kyle Hall, aged just four days, died. An inquest found that at two points there was an opportunity to listen to his heart rate, but this action wasn’t taken prior to the delivery, contributing to his death.

So what options are available to parents who lose a child as a result of medical negligence or malpractice.

Speaking with Laura Morgan, Director of Medical Negligence at Your Legal Friend, she says that:

“Often parents feel that there’s nothing they can do. Despite feeling as though their concerns were ignored, many feel trapped. There are ways you can make a difference though. You can request that the incident is investigated by contacting the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), which should serve as a first step in answering the question ‘why was this allowed to happen?’, if the resulting report shows that medical negligence was indeed the cause or if you don’t get the explanation that you seek, you would be advised to find a specialist solicitor who can assist you through the complex stages of a medical negligence claim. The hope is that in the light of this new investigation into the deaths at this Trust the NHS will become a learning organisation and the same devastating mistakes will not be repeated in future.” 

In pursuing a claim, no amount of compensation can remedy the damage done. But there is a chance that procedures within the Trusts responsible, might change, to prevent the same thing from happening to other expectant parents.

In figures stated by The Times, it is stated that the most expensive claims to the NHS were those related to the consistent failure of doctors and midwives to monitor babies’ heart rates properly, accounting for £268 million of claims in 2014.

At the same time, an analysis of NHS Trusts last year found that Shrewsbury and Telford was one of the worst in the country when it came to learning from mistakes.

You might then be forgiven for thinking that making a claim against the NHS trust responsible isn’t all that helpful. However, as more stories like these come to light as they have in the BBC’s investigation, the people with the power and influence to make drastic change are more likely to take note; Jeremey Hunt being one such example.

If you’ve been affected by medical malpractice and have lost a baby, or seen yours suffer from avoidable injury, contact us today for a confidential and sensitive discussion.