Published: 14:48, 14 August 2020
| Updated: 17:52, 14 August 2020
A newborn baby died after a first-time mum was refused admission to a maternity unit despite being on the verge of giving birth.
Rachel Higgs was in the final stages of labour, but staff at the nearby QEQM Hospital in Margate told her they were full and she would need to drive the 38 miles to the William Harvey in Ashford, an hour away.
Unable to as she was almost fully dilated, Ms Higgs was forced to endure a complicated labour at home before little Archie Batten was eventually born five hours later after she was rushed to Thanet's maternity unit by ambulance.
Despite resuscitation attempts, he died aged just 27 minutes old.
Now, the East Kent Hospitals Trust has admitted its care was sub-standard and that Archie would have survived had he been delivered earlier.
The ordeal started at 10.30am on September 1, last year when Ms Higgs - who had enjoyed an uncomplicated pregnancy and was at full term - had attended the QEQM suffering contractions and being violently ill.
She was unable to access the labour ward and was examined twice over two hours at the maternity day care centre, but refused admission on the basis she was not in active labour.
She was then told to go home and "wait as long as possible" before returning and said a bed would then be available for her.
But when Ms Higgs called the unit just before 5pm she was again turned away, this time due to the hospital being on 'divert' to Ashford because of a lack of beds.
A midwife was sent to her home and found the mum 9cm dilated and told her to start pushing, at which point Ms Higgs' partner Andrew Batten excitedly text family members to say the baby was on its way.
Over the next five hours four midwives tended to Ms Higgs, none of whom, according to her solicitor Nick Fairweather, realised labour needed to be progressed and Archie delivered.
It is claimed her membranes were only broken at a very late stage and there was a failure to keep proper records of the foetal heart rate.
She started to give birth at home and an ambulance was finally called at 10pm once the severity of the situation was realised by one of the midwives.
Throughout the five hours, Mr Fairweather says none of the midwives had been in communication with the QEQM's maternity unit - despite it now being open.
By the time Ms Higgs reached the QEQM Archie was born, but in a very poor condition.
He managed to breathe independently for a short time but tragically died after resuscitation attempts failed.
In a letter sent to Fairweathers Solicitors LLP, East Kent Hospitals Trust has admitted sub-standard care and said that had delivery taken place earlier, as it should have done, Archie would have survived without any kind of injury.
Devastated Ms Higgs and Mr Batten, who were first time parents with Archie, said they had put their total faith in the hospitals trust and professionals.
'We are determined to get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong and why...'
"The number and range of mistakes that took place are difficult to comprehend," said Ms Higgs.
"I am pleased that the trust has made this formal admission.
"Beyond this, however, we are determined to get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong and why, through the ongoing inquest process, the Kirkup review and otherwise.
"This is because, like the other families affected by the blunders at the QEQM, our overriding ambition is that genuine, lasting and effective changes are made so that other families do not have to suffer in the same way in the future."
Mr Fairweather says he hopes what went wrong can be a blueprint for putting things right.
"I pay tribute to Rachel and to Andrew for their dignity and resolve in dealing with the aftermath of losing Archie so tragically in circumstances that were wholly avoidable," he said.
"It will be a lasting tribute to his memory if we can truly get to the bottom of why maternity services at this hospital were so substandard in most aspects of their operation over such a prolonged period."
Tempers flared at a pre-inquest review at County Hall, Maidstone, earlier today after Mr Fairweather claimed the Trust had been "deliberately" disrupting proceedings, which had taken a mental toll on the Higgs family, who are expecting a child in January.
He said he was "perplexed" why such little progress had been made and that proceedings were going "at a snail's pace and distressing the family".
Paul Spencer, who was representing East Kent Hospitals Trust, snapped back at Mr Fairweather's "rant", saying: "The idea the Trust has deliberately disrupted proceedings is simply not accepted."
It was suggested a date in April be decided to deal with matters after all evidence and statements are submitted and to avoid any hearings close to Mrs Higgs planned birth in January.
However, coroner Sonia Hayes suggested an earlier date of around December time could be an option, but would depend on the family's feelings about this, with Mrs Higgs pregnancy in her thoughts.
Archie's death follows that of Harry Richford, who died aged seven days following a string of failures during his birth at the QEQM in November 2017.
In the wake of his inquest in January, an investigation was launched into 26 other maternity cases at East Kent Hospitals.
An independent inquiry called the Kirkup Review is also now underway with an expert panel looking at the performance of the trust dating back to 2009.
Mr Fairweather says Ms Higgs and Mr Batten are one of 12 families Fairweathers represent whose babies have either died or been caused serious lifelong injuries while under the care of East Kent Hospital's maternity and neonatal services.
"We are referring cases, including Archie’s, for review by the Kirkup enquiry into maternity services at the east Kent trust," he added.
Timeline of Archie's birth:
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said they are truly sorry for the death of Archie and offer their heartfelt condolences to Archie’s family.
"We are making improvements to our maternity service, with help from leading maternity experts, to ensure that we provide safe services for all mums and babies.
"We are fully committed to making any further changes recommended by the coroner as a result of Archie’s inquest."
To contact the Kirkup Review investigation team with a maternity incident click here.