Concerns Raised For Standards of Care in Maternity Wards Across England

Maternity Care
BSC, LLB (Hons) & LPC Sophia Azam
Legally reviewed by: BSC, LLB (Hons) & LPC Sophia Azam In: Medical Negligence

The standard of care that mothers and their babies receive in maternity wards has been placed under the spotlight, after East Kent NHS trust pled guilty over the death of a baby, and concerns have been raised that the Worcester Royal Hospital is severely understaffed. Our specialist solicitor, Nimish Patel, commented that:

‘Overall,  the vast  majorities of  pregnancies will  progress with  little or no issues arising,  however it is clear that there  are many health and social factors which should be considered on individual cases and the absence of core staff increases the possibility of  potential issues being missed. Three quarters of women who pass away due to heart related issues during pregnancy are having difficulties for the first time and may be unaware of underlying complications.  The  importance of monitoring during  pregnancy and  labour can not be underestimated and the staff shortages will increase the risks of complications becoming more serious. The East Kent prosecution was the first from the Care Quality commission but it is unlikely to be the last.’

Maternity Care

East Kent NHS

East Kent NHS trust have admitted that they had failed to provide adequate care for Sarah Richford and her baby boy Harry, after he died seven days after an emergency delivery. The inquest found that there were multiple failings in the care that was provided, including failings in the way that an ‘inexperienced’ doctor carried out the delivery and later delays in resuscitation. An independent review of the maternity services at the trust is ongoing, after a series of failings led to the deaths of up to 15 babies. The Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch (HSIB) first raised concerns in 2018, but found the failings continued, which ultimately led to a new review beginning in April of 2020. Harry Richford’s father, Tom Richford, said that the family had to ‘fight and fight and fight and eventually we’ve now got the inquests, and the inquiries and the investigations that really mean that change should hopefully be more systemic and sustainable.’ Positively, the rate of neonatal deaths and still births at the trust had both fallen since 2020 – showing that decisive legal action can have an impact on improving standards of care.

Worcester Royal Hospital

In Worcester, a senior doctor similarly raised the alarm that changes to the way in which the NHS unit was run was leaving wards dangerously understaffed. It was reported that women who were classed as ‘high-risk’ at the Worcester Royal Hospital experienced long delays to give birth after being initially induced – some for up to five days. In other cases, it was reported that women who were in urgent need of caesarean sections have also been made to wait because women who had their caesareans planned would be prioritised. Four women have died at the Worcestershire Acute Trust between July 2019 and December of 2020, whilst the maternity department’s clinical director resigned from her role, describing ‘unacceptably long delays’ were being experienced by patients being treated there. The problems have been attributed to a new care model that is being rolled out by NHS England to hospitals across England this year, with all women to be offered the service by the end of 2023.  The re-shuffle has meant that core staff are pulled away from the hospital unit and wards are left dangerously understaffed. Internal reports have shown that the maternity unit at Worcester was short staffed on the delivery suite for almost half of all shifts between July and December last year.

The combined reports of these to NHS trusts failing to maintain an acceptable standard of care for their patients is concerning. When you are being treated by medial professionals, you always expect that you will be in safe hands. If you have been the victim of negligent medical care, then our specialists can help support you throughout a legal case.

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