Published: 12:04, 13 February 2020
| Updated: 15:48, 13 February 2020
A full independent review of maternity services is due to be carried out at the under-fire East Kent Hospitals.
An expert team of medics from across the country, including midwives and obstetricians, have also been brought in to work in the maternity units at the QEQM in Margate and William Harvey in Ashford.
They will deliver "imminent improvements" to care.
Health minister Nadine Dorries made the announcement in Parliament this morning after calls for a public inquiry into the baby death scandal at East Kent Hospitals Trust.
She said an independent review has been commissioned by NHS England and NHS Improvements and will be "robust".
"I am sure that the inquiry will include a full assessment of the executive team and the board at the hospital, because those at the top must take full responsibility for whatever has happened in the trust," she said.
"I hope that Simon Stevens of NHS England will not mind my saying that no stone will be left unturned.
"I will certainly be seeking reassurances that that is the case, and, from ward level to the chief executive’s office, this inquiry will be thorough and robust, because I will make sure that it is."
Ms Dorries added: "The government is fully committed to reducing patient harm and improving the safety of maternity services."
She also insisted the trust is a safe place for any woman to give birth, with leading midwives and obstetricians from around the country drafted in to offer support.
"Some of the very best staff in the country are working there at the moment," she added.
"We have an expert team that has stepped into the trust, placed onto wards and at patients' bedsides.
"They are working with trust staff to deliver imminent improvements to care and put in place comprehensive processes to support improvement in standards for the long term."
She said findings from the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which has undertaken a number of maternity investigations, has already identified a number of safety concerns at the trust including availability of skilled staff - particularly out of hours - access to neo-natal resuscitation equipment, the speed at which patients concerns are escalated to senior clinicians, as well as failings in leadership and governance.
A Care Quality Commission inspection has also been carried out and findings handed to the government. A report will be published in due course.
During proceedings in the House of Commons, MP for North Thanet Sir Roger Gale said he had spoken to a couple in the early hours of this morning about the death of their baby, who died two months after Harry Richford, whose death was described last month as "wholly avoidable" by a coroner.
"It was the most harrowing call I've ever taken in 36 years in Parliament," he said.
"They deserve and need the opportunity to try to achieve closure and move forward. These parents need to know that the failures in protocol and clinical judgement and management have been addressed."
He called for the CQC report to be published as soon as possible and for the independent inquiry to be carried out.
"So at the very least Harry Richford's parents, Rosie's and others will know their children have not died in vain and it will never ever happen again," he added.
Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said the families who have lost their babies at East Kent Hospitals Trust have been let down in the most awful way imaginable.
"Not only is it evident that there were failures of care, but this was compounded by failure to report the deaths in the appropriate manner," she said.
"This has meant that not only do the families concerned have to deal with their loss, they have unanswered questions as to what happened.
"I know that staff working at the Trust are under incredible pressure, but it is clear that there has been a failure of leadership and this needs to be addressed.
"I welcome the fact that there will be an inquiry, which must be transparent and involve the families at every stage.
"But it also apparent that there are wider issues that need to be considered.
The Minister’s earlier written statement highlights issues relating to resourcing and staffing levels, which now must be addressed as a matter of utmost urgency.
"But, there also needs to be a national review of how maternity deaths are reported, so that families are never again left wondering."
Authorities are examining 26 maternity cases across the east Kent trust, where at least seven preventable baby deaths have occurred.
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said: "We know that we have not always provided the standard of care for every woman and baby that they expected and deserved, and wholeheartedly apologise to every one of those families we have let down.
"We are taking all necessary steps to provide safe care and we are treating the recently raised concerns about the safety of our service with the utmost seriousness and urgency.
"This includes making use of support from leading maternity experts, who have already identified further improvements that we will make.
"We recognise that the change needed in our maternity service has not taken place quickly enough, and we are doing everything we can to improve our culture so that we become an organisation which is constantly learning and improving.
"As part of this we continue to work with our regulators in an open and transparent way.
"Our externally-chaired Board sub-committee will review the actions we have taken since we commissioned an independent review into our service in 2015, ensuring we are complying with national safety standards and are implementing the coroner’s recommendations (after Harry Richford's death) fully and swiftly.
"Around 7,000 women give birth under our care each year, and one death that could be prevented is one too many. We will not rest until we are delivering an outstanding maternity service that has the full confidence of all families in east Kent."