HOSPITAL IN PROBE OVER 24 BABY DEATHS
Alarm at NHS board’s soaring stillbirth rate
THE NHS has launched an investigation into the death of 24 babies after the stillbirth rate in one health board area soared to more than double the national average.
In one three-month period in 2016, more than twice the expected number of babies were stillborn within Forth Valley – most of them at the board’s flagship new-build hospital which has been described as ‘one of the most modern and well-equipped in Europe’.
As an independent expert probes the deaths, The Scottish Mail on Sunday today shares the heartbreaking testimony of one bereaved mother who has just received an apology and payout from the board after a disturbing series of blunders.
Helen Fyfe, 43, lost her baby, Olivia, while waiting for doctors to carry out a caesarean section. A foetal heart rate monitor which would have detected the baby’s deteriorating condition was disconnected, and the operation was
delayed for seven hours after Mrs Fyfe was placed in the wrong ward – with tragic consequences.
Another woman is also suing the same health board following the death of her baby.
Both cases follow that of Sarah Mackinlay, who received an apology after her baby son Marcus was stillborn after his foetal heart rate monitor was switched off.
Last night patient representatives and politicians described the board’s stillbirth rates as ‘very concerning’ and urged the board to act immediately ‘to prevent any further risk to patient safety’.
The review came to light in minutes put before the NHS Forth Valley board which stated: ‘...NHS Forth Valley had noted a higher than expected rate of stillbirths and a review of this was nearing completion.’ The report added: ‘One case had been reviewed externally and whilst areas for improvement had been identified, they were not below the threshold for the standard of expected care... three cases had been identified where care could have been improved, although this would not have necessarily impacted on the outcome.’
Data from the National Records of Scotland show that in the first quarter of last year there were six stillbirths in Forth Valley, which equated to a rate of 8.8 per 1,000 births.
In the second quarter, nine stillbirths were recorded, equal to a rate of 11.9 per 1,000 births.
In the third quarter the number was six, or a rate of 7.9 per 1,000.
Over the whole period, the Scottish average rate of stillbirths has been around 4.6 per 1,000 births.
Last night, NHS Forth Valley confirmed there had been a total of 24 stillbirths during 2016, all of which are now being reviewed.
The board added that while most women in the region gave birth at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, stillbirths could happen at home or before admission to hospital and that not all the cases being reviewed occurred in hospital.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients’ Association, said: ‘These figures are very concerning as the hospital in question had double the number of stillbirths compared to the Scottish national average during parts of last year.
‘Patients generally may be wondering what is behind these statistics and whether the quality of care and treatment they receive at this hospital is up to the expected standard.
‘The Patients’ Association recognise that averages are just that, and that isolated incidents may just be anomalies that do not form part of the bigger picture.
‘However, across the year, the hospital has reported a consistently and alarmingly high figure for still births and so we would urge the hospital and the local health board to review the situation immediately to prevent any further risk to patient safety.’
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said: ‘The stillbirth rate in Forth Valley is worryingly high, and will understandably cause huge concern for expectant mothers in the area.
‘To be consistently above the Scottish average points to serious underlying problems, and it’s only right that a review into these incidents is under way.
‘We now need urgent answers as to what went wrong, so we can help prevent more tragic deaths in future.’
Yesterday, a statement from NHS Forth Valley said: ‘There were a total of 24 stillbirths in NHS Forth Valley
‘An alarmingly high figure for stillbirths’
during 2016 and all are included in the current internal review. ‘We recognise that the number of stillbirths occurring in the first
half of 2016 was higher than the national average which was why we took the decision to carry out an internal review.
‘We are also currently in the process of arranging an independent external review to ensure we identify all potential learning.
‘Although the total number of stillbirths in 2016 was higher than the previous year, the numbers fell consistently throughout the second half of the year, during which time they were similar to previous years. During the previous five years the number of stillbirths in Forth Valley has been consistently below the national average and any cases which occurred during this period have been reviewed on an individual basis.
‘The review to date has not identified any significant issues or concerns and we are committed to the ongoing delivery of high-quality, safe and effective maternity care.’
Dr Jean Turner, a retired GP, former MSP and patients’ rights campaigner, said: ‘There could be medical reasons that nobody could prevent. It could be that they are unfortunate, by sheer chance. But if you have a stillbirth you have gone through a whole nine months and delivered a baby who has died. The grieving process for that is enormous.’
Miss Mackinlay was admitted to hospital on June 25, 2013. Doctors were worried about her unborn child and she was connected to a foetal heart-rate monitor. Inexplicably, the monitor was later turned off. By the time doctors at the Forth Valley Royal Hospital realised what was happening, it was too late. Miss Mackinlay’s son Marcus was stillborn. Following the tragedy, an independent review concluded it was ‘likely’ that the mistake had cost little Marcus his life. The hospital apologised to Miss Mackinlay, of Falkirk, Stirlingshire, and ordered a change in practice.
Last November, The Scottish Mail on Sunday revealed that the NHS had been forced to apologise for the ‘potentially avoidable’ deaths of five babies at Caithness General Hospital in Wick. A report uncovered evidence of poor care in cases where babies were either stillborn or died soon after birth.
TRAGEDY: Sarah Mackinlay lost her baby son Marcus
STATE OF THE ART: Forth Valley Royal