A maternity scandal that has cost the lives of dozens of mothers and babies is among the worst in the history of the NHS, lawyers said last night.
They compared the failings at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust to those at Mid-Staffordshire, where up to 1,200 patients died needlessly between 2005 and 2009.
Police dramatically announced on Tuesday that they had launched a criminal inquiry into maternity care at the two Shropshire hospitals.
It followed a meeting with NHS officials and Donna Ockenden, a senior midwife who has been carrying out an independent review since 2017.
She has already identified 1,250 cases, some of which date back to the 1970s.
A maternity scandal that has cost the lives of dozens of mothers and babies is among the worst in the history of the NHS, lawyers said last night. Pictured: Katie Wilkins, 24, whose baby daughter Maddie was stillborn at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital in February 2013 after busy midwives left her in a side room for 48 hours and failed to properly monitor her, welcomed the developments yesterday
Laura Preston, a principal lawyer in clinical negligence at Slater and Gordon, said: ‘We’ve had a lot of inquiries – the numbers are scary quite frankly, in terms of overall size and recency.
‘Some of the cases go up to 2019, a couple of years after the independent investigation began. Some go back to the 1970s, so we are looking at a 40-year span which, in my opinion, can only point to a rather unhealthy culture in that particular trust.
‘There is no doubt comparisons are going to be made to Mid-Staffs. You have to question how something involving this many people, this many tragedies, hasn’t come to the fore over such a long period of time and if there weren’t elements that have been covered up or deliberately withheld.
‘It’s not one individual that’s for sure, it’s culture and systemic failings. But you also have to question senior level management of the trust, certainly in obstetrics and gynaecology departments, where this care will have been given.
Rhiannon Davies of Ludlow Shropshire pictured with her daughter Kate just moments after her birth on Sunday March 1, 2009
Kate and Andrew Barnett from Newtown lost their son Jenson two days after his birth in June 2013, after he suffered brain trauma during an unsuccessful forceps delivery
‘The fact that there is now a criminal investigation speaks volumes. There is obviously compelling evidence within [Miss Ockenden’s] investigation that has led them down that road.’
Mrs Preston believes the compensation bill is likely to run into millions, if not hundreds of millions, of pounds.
But she said the courts were ill-equipped to establish the right level of compensation over the deaths of babies where there was negligence. ‘The courts have wrangled with this for many, many years, but the truth is there’s no adequate sum of money you can give to compensate families when a baby dies,’ she added.
‘In cases where babies have been left critically injured and will have life-long care needs the figure for compensation will run into millions – although the overall figure will be anyone’s guess. It won’t be a small number, given how many cases there may be.
‘These families are traumatised. I would certainly encourage anyone who has any worries about the care they have had at Shrewsbury Hospital to come forward and seek professional support.’
Yesterday Miss Ockenden released a statement to reassure families that the launch of the police inquiry will not affect the progress of her review, which was set in motion by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt in April 2017. She confirmed that initial findings and recommendations will be published later this year, with the full review due in 2021.
Miss Ockenden said her team would work with West Mercia Police to identify cases relevant to the criminal investigation. Last year a leaked interim report described the culture at the maternity unit at the trust as ‘toxic’.
It revealed that there had been 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.
Katie Wilkins, 24, whose baby daughter Maddie was stillborn at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital in February 2013 after busy midwives left her in a side room for 48 hours and failed to properly monitor her, welcomed the developments yesterday.
‘This feels like a significant moment,’ she said. ‘I’m really pleased the police are investigating, it feels like they are being very thorough and finally something might get done.
Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust to those at Mid-Staffordshire, where up to 1,200 patients died needlessly between 2005 and 2009, has been reviewed. Pictured: The Royal Shrewsbury Hospital
‘Nothing can bring Maddie back, but we just want justice for her. We know what happened at Shrewsbury Hospital is the reason Maddie is not with us. We’ve been trying to get somebody to listen and take on our case for eight years, now at last it feels like we are getting somewhere.’
Louise Barnett, chief executive at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust, said it was co-operating with the police probe.
A public inquiry led by Sir Robert Francis QC in 2013 condemned the ‘appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people’ at Mid-Staffs. Some patients were left lying in their own human waste for days, forced to drink water from vases or given the wrong medication.
That inquiry followed a 2009 investigation by the Healthcare Commission which estimated that between 400 and 1,200 more patients died at Stafford Hospital than would have been expected.
The hospital has been renamed County Hospital and is run by a different trust.