Published: 14:00, 29 June 2020
| Updated: 16:34, 29 June 2020
An expert panel looking into the baby death scandal at East Kent Hospitals will meet today for the first time to discuss its findings so far.
Bereaved families who have lost a baby - dating back as far as 2009 - have been giving their personal experiences over the last two months to investigators as part of the independent review being led by Dr Bill Kirkup.
The leading medic has led probes into numerous public service failures, including the 11 baby deaths at Morecambe Bay, the Hillsborough tragedy and the Jimmy Savile scandal.
He is being assisted by five experts across the fields of obstetrics, midwifery, neonatal medicine, clinical governance and information management to look at maternity services at the trust, which runs the QEQM in Margate and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, dating back over a decade.
Shocking incidents were exposed this year, sparked by the inquest of baby Harry Richford, who died at one week old following a string of failures at the QEQM and whose death was deemed "wholly avoidable" by the coroner.
Cases of other preventable baby deaths emerged and a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, dating back to 2015 but not made public at the time, was thrown into the spotlight showing numerous concerns about maternity services.
It was then revealed the Health Safety Investigation Branch was carrying out 26 maternity investigations at the trust including other baby deaths.
'I would like to thank the families for the way they have engaged with the investigation already' - Dr Bill Kirkup
The Kirkup review, announced by the government in February, has been carrying out the first phase of its work which involves contacting affected families.
Today's meeting will look at what has been learned so far and consider the next steps.
Dr Kirkup says his investigation will call on a wide range of expertise across the field of maternity care.
It will also be supported by two specialist advisers, Nicky Lyon and James Titcombe, both of whom lost children due to maternity failures at hospitals outside of Kent and have since campaigned for patient safety.
"I am delighted to have secured the services of an expert panel with the skills and experience necessary to assess all the concerns," Dr Kirkup said.
"It is important that the families are able to meet the panel to ensure that the investigation answers the range of important concerns emerging.
"Using video conferencing gives us the opportunity to do so while the Covid-19 restrictions remain.
"I would like to thank the families for the way they have engaged with the investigation already, including providing the papers they have collected, which has been a great help in getting the investigation up and running.
"I would also like to thank East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust for engaging with the investigation and assembling relevant medical records for scrutiny."
In April, Dr Kirkup said he hoped any families with concerns about the maternity services in east Kent would contact the investigation team and he says this is still the case.
The probe will look at the maternity and neonatal services provided by the trust.
The panel will meet more families next month.
Dover and Deal MP Natalie Elphicke says pressure should be kept up to deliver immediate improvement to East Kent maternity services.
Baby Tallulah-Rai Edwards from Dover is one of the cases in Mrs Elphicke's constituency which was investigated last year and concerns raised.
Mrs Elphicke said: "I’ve had meetings with Dr Kirkup and pressed for this inquiry to look at the whole maternity process, from pre-birth monitoring through to labour care and mental health support after birth as well.
"We know from the families I’ve been speaking to that there have been issues at every stage.
"The families affected deserve to know exactly what happened and it’s also the best way for lessons to be learnt. But while we wait for the report from the Kirkup investigation, the trust can't take their foot off the pedal.
"Urgent changes are still needed to maternity care as it is clear from the CQC that they still don’t think things are where they need to be. All the families who have spoken to me have made it clear that they don't want anyone else to go through what they have.
"From my discussions with him I am sure Dr Kirkup’s investigation will be through and comprehensive."
Families wanting to get in touch with the panel can visit www.iiekms.org.uk
More by this authorMarijke Hall
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