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East Kent Hospitals baby deaths: Kirkup review starts with help from Hillsborough investigators

An independent review into the baby death scandal at East Kent Hospitals has started with help from two leading lights in the Hillsborough investigation.

Bereaved families who lost a baby - dating as far back as 2009 - are being asked to give their personal experiences as part of the review, which is being led by Dr Bill Kirkup, who investigated the maternity failings at Morecambe Bay in 2015.

Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital, Margate. Picture: Tony Flashman FM4037792
Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital, Margate. Picture: Tony Flashman FM4037792

He is being supported by Ken Sutton and Ann Ridley, who established the groundbreaking Hillsborough Independent Panel and were praised for their work in uncovering the truth about the football ground disaster, which resulted in the deaths of 96 people in 1989.

Dr Kirkup worked with them on the Hillsborough panel and has drafted them in to help with his East Kent Hospitals review, in which he will look at the performance of the trust dating back to 2009.

He says he can assure a fair, thorough and independent investigation into the multiple preventable baby deaths at trust, which runs the QEQM in Margate and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

"I am beginning by introducing myself to families so their concerns can form a central part of my investigation," he said.

"Face-to-face contact with those affected will be a crucial part of how this investigation is to proceed.

"Clearly, the current public health crisis makes that impossible, but use of modern technology means the important work I will lead can – and should – get started immediately.

"I hope any families with concerns about the maternity services they received in this period will feel able to let me know so that the investigation can be as thorough as I intend it to be."

It is expected he will report his findings next year.

The independent review comes in response to calls for a public inquiry into maternity services after serious problems were exposed at the trust earlier this year.

It followed the high-profile inquest in January of baby Harry Richford - who died aged one week in November 2017 at the QEQM - in which multiple failings were exposed.

Harry Richford's death was wholly avoidable
Harry Richford's death was wholly avoidable

His death was described as "wholly avoidable" by the coroner.

At the same time, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) has carried out 26 maternity investigations at the trust, starting its probe in 2018.

Its damning report, published earlier this month, found East Kent Hospitals was "inappropriately slow" at addressing frequent safety concerns on its maternity wards.

Despite repeatedly raising concerns, investigators "continued to observe the same risks occurring" at the William Harvey and QEQM.

The examination also found "recurrent safety risks" in 24 cases.

Resuscitation equipment was found to be located in incorrect areas, and questions over staff failures to spot signs of deterioration in health were raised.

Deterioration in the condition of mothers and babies occurred in several cases due to staff not recognising the signs.

The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford
The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford

The new investigation by Dr Kirkup, commissioned by NHS England and NHS Improvements, was announced by health minister Nadine Dorries in February.

In a letter to coroner Christopher Sutton-Mattocks, who led the Harry Richford inquest, Ms Dorries says it is essential that close scrutiny of maternity services continues.

"I am advised that the CQC, NHS England and NHS Improvement and other system partners will oversee progress and will take further intervention measures where necessary," she wrote.

"The Kirkup review will look in great detail at the safety and quality of the trust's maternity services."

Families wanting to get in touch with Dr Kirkup email ken@kensuttonassociates.co.uk or billandann@hotmail.com.

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