Alarm at NHS board’s soar­ing still­birth rate

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Front Page - By Dawn Thomp­son

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

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