POLICE TO PROBE UK’S WORST BABY WARDS SCANDAL
After Mail exposed scale of tragedy, dramatic intervention at hospitals where dozens died or suffered brain damage
DETECTIVES last night opened a criminal inquiry into Britain’s biggest maternity scandal.
They will investigate failings at two hospitals where dozens of babies died or suffered brain damage. The dramatic development came after police met NHS officials and the leader of a probe into 1,200 cases dating back to the 1970s.
It means maternity staff at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS trust could face criminal charges over a scandal whose shocking scale was exposed by the Daily Mail.
‘A police investigation will be conducted to explore whether there is evidence to support a criminal case either against the trust or any individuals,’ said Assistant Chief Constable geoff Wessell of West Mercia Police.
‘The investigation is now live so we are unable to comment any further at this time.’
Concerns were first raised in 2009 when Kate Stanton-Davies died six hours after her birth. A report found her death was avoidable and criticised two midwives for failing to realise the birth was high risk and
for ignoring family concerns. Dozens of other parents then came forward fearing that their babies’ deaths at the trust could have been avoided.
They alleged their children lost their lives or were left with lifelong brain injuries as a result of poor care at the NHS trust.
An independent review led by Donna Ockenden was launched by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt in April 2017 to look into 23 cases. But the number has risen dramatically to 1,250 – some as recent as last year. It has been described as one of the NHS’s worst care scandals.
Kate’s father Richard Stanton said last night: ‘For us, this is a really significant turn of events. I would like to hope this is a real legacy for Kate and obviously the work we’ve done over the last 11 years since we lost her.
‘It has to be a good thing that West Mercia Police are now formally investigating the trust. For years the trust has seemingly failed to learn from avoidable deaths only for there to be another one.
‘Myself and Rhiannon [his partner and Kate’s mother] have been working intensely with the police over the past 18 months to get this across the line today. This is the right thing to have happened.’
Lawyers for the families of victims welcomed the move.
Laura Preston, a clinical negligence solicitor with Slater and Gordon, said: ‘This is a truly shocking case that has been growing for a number of years.
‘The investigations thus far seem to reveal deep-rooted systemic failures that span many years.
‘Criminality in an NHS setting is very worrying, but it is imperative that whenever deaths occur on this scale a full investigation into any number of negligent actions is undertaken to prevent further future death and/or injury.
‘It is clear that the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust haven’t been open about their failures under the expected duty of candour that applies to NHS trusts.
‘A really significant turn of events’
And promises of lessons being learned have not been kept. The families of the victims will no doubt be very anxious to know the outcome of the police investigations, which will reveal the true extent of this deeply disturbing scandal.’
Louise Barnett, chief executive of the trust, said it would fully cooperate.
She added: ‘We are aware that a police investigation will be conducted by West Mercia Police to explore whether there is evidence to support a criminal case either against the trust or any individuals involved, following complaints made against the trust in relation to maternity services and provision. I would like to reassure all families affected that we are listening and acting.’
The most serious cases involve the deaths of babies and mothers during childbirth. Others include babies who suffered lifelong harm. Some parents say they were pressured into having ‘natural’ births in midwife-supervised units.
A number of deaths have been blamed on midwives not monitoring foetal heart rates properly.
Last year a leaked interim report said there was a ‘toxic’ culture at the maternity unit dating back 40 years. The ongoing review by Miss Ockenden for NHS Improvement has so far identified at least 45 avoidable deaths, including those of 42 babies and three mothers.
There were also 51 cases of brain damage or cerebral palsy in infants and 47 further incidents of substandard care from 1979 to 2017. Miss Ockenden said her inquiry team has received reports from people who were patients at the trust as recently as 2019. She said in April: ‘Many of the concerns we are looking at are among the most serious any of my team have seen in their entire careers.’
Lucy Allan, Conservative MP for Telford, said: ‘ I welcome the decision by West Mercia Police to launch a criminal investigation.
‘The number of cases, the horrendous accounts of poor care, and the attitudes of senior management toward those who raised concerns, make this a deeply shocking scandal. It’s no good dismissing it as historic. Families are living with the devastating consequences today; in any event recent cases of poor care are being recorded, as more women come forward.’
The Ockenden inquiry is expected to conclude this year.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at MajorIncidentUnit@westmercia.pnn. police.uk or by calling 101. Alternatively contact the independent review team at email@example.com
Dead after six hours: Kate Stanton-Davies with mother Rhiannon
Died after one day: Pippa Griffiths
Died on his first day: Jack Burn