Published: 14:50, 13 February 2020
| Updated: 18:14, 13 February 2020
The number of cases of preventable baby deaths in East Kent Hospitals could as many as 15 in seven years, the trust's board have admitted.
Chief executive officer Susan Acott revealed the number, which is significantly higher than previously thought, in a public board meeting at Ashford's William Harvey Hospital today.
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The figure, from 2012 to 2019, was previously thought to be at least seven but has remained unclear until now.
Ms Acott also announced that the trust's medical director Dr Paul Stevens was reviewing all prenatal deaths at the trust's hospitals in the last decade.
The news comes on the same day as health minister Nadine Dorris announced an independent investigation into the scandal.
The emotionally-charged board meeting started with both Ms Acott and trust chair Stephen Smith offering their 'unreserved' apologies to the parents and family of Harry Richford, as well as any other families that may have been affected by the crisis.
Mr Smith said: "We apologise unreservedly to the family of Harry Richford.
"The death of any baby is heartbreaking, and when it involves substandard care it is a tragedy.
"We want to provide excellent care to every child who uses our service, and we will not rest until members of the public an our regulators are satisfied that we can do so."
The board came under fire from governors, nine of whom were at the meeting, who demanded public assurances that work was being done to address a variety of issues.
Enquiries centered around what steps the board was taking to rectify the failings that lead to preventable baby deaths, including their approach to staffing issues.
However, questions were also raised about the board's alleged lack of transparency with both the public and Governors, something that was also raised at a private meeting last week.
"We will not stop until we get the answers that the families need..."
Alex Lister, elected governor for Canterbury, went as far as to ask Mrs Acott and Dr Stevens if they were planning on resigning.
Speaking to KMTV after the meeting, he said: "For too long at this trust, there has been a culture of secrecy and bullying, it's been highlighted in staff surveys for a while now.
"It is our duty as governors to hold the board to account, but we can only do that if we are given the right information.
"Poor Harrry [Richford] was born just 10 weeks apart from my own daughter in the same trust, so I can only begin to imagine the pain the family must be feeling.
"We will not stop until we get the answers that the families need. We will not allow this culture of secrecy to prevail. Things will change."
Ms Acott said she would remain to ensure continuity in the response to the crisis, and mentioned that some deaths dated back before she and other members of the board took their seats.
Dr Stevens said he had already announced his intention to step down, and was preparing to hand over to a chief medical officer.
Among the responses to the crisis, the board announced plans to recruit six new consultants middle grade doctors to help boost maternity cover.
It was also revealed that the coroner examining Harry Richford's inquest made 19 recommendations to the trust in six key areas.
The recommendations for improvement mostly stem from the suggestions of the tragic baby's parents, and the board say that they are all being addressed.
More by this authorAlex Jee