Published: 11:44, 01 October 2020
| Updated: 12:12, 01 October 2020
Families who have lost a baby or mothers who have come to harm while under the care of East Kent Hospitals maternity units are being urged to come forward as part of a major investigation.
Dr Bill Kirkup, who is leading the review at the scandal-hit QEQM in Margate and Ashford's William Harvey, says they have already had more parents than first thought make contact.
But he says it is imperative others who have been affected come forward now so they can investigate fully.
"We are in a position where we want any additional families to come forward and I would rather they do so now than leaving it any longer," he said.
"I'm not going to talk about the numbers that we've got already, but I can say we have more people than we had known about in the first place."
Earlier this year, the hospital trust's board admitted the number of cases of preventable baby deaths could be as many as 15 in seven years.
The Health Services Inspection Board (HSIB) is in the process of examining 26 individual maternity cases at the trust.
The independent Kirkup Review, which is a separate investigation, was then set up in April to examine the standard of care provided by the maternity and neonatal service at EKH since 2009, the year it became a foundation trust.
Dr Kikrup, who led the probe into the Morecambe Bay baby death scandal and also worked on the investigation into the Hillsborough football disaster, says there might be families out there who haven't yet come forward.
"I know the death of a child or mother, or their injury during childbirth, is a very distressing event in a family’s life," he said.
"I also know that sharing such experiences can be difficult and traumatic.
"We will listen compassionately and sensitively and will take steps to ensure all families that come forward feel appropriately supported.
"I will therefore make arrangements for any families to share with the investigation their experience in private and to remain anonymous, if you would prefer to do so."
The expert panel working on the review is looking at individual cases where there has been a preventable or avoidable death, or a concern that the death may have been preventable or avoidable.
It will also examine cases where there has been a damaging outcome for the baby or mother, or where there is reason to believe the circumstances shed light on how maternity services were provided or managed.
Dr Kirkup says they will also be looking at how the trust responded when things went wrong.
"It's important there is a trust culture," he said.
"We absolutely shouldn't blame people who have made honest mistakes but the trust has a duty to own up, talk to relatives and parents about what has happened so things are done differently in the future."
On Tuesday, speaking to Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee about maternity units nationally, Dr Kikrup said some "actively conceal" mistakes.
He said: "When they get in sufficient trouble their response is to stop communicating with the outside world and disguise the problems they've got."
His review will look at how East Kent Hospitals responded to signals that there were problems and sought to learn lessons and how it engaged with regulators, including the CQC.
The trust has been criticised for the way it has handled past cases, including that of Harry Richford, who died aged one week in 2017 after a traumatic birth at the QEQM. His death was described as wholly avoidable following a three-week inquest.
After he died, the trust wrongly claimed his death had been expected and failed to inform the coroner.
It was only due to the persistence of the family that the coroner was eventually notified and an inquest took place, uncovering multiple failings which had led to his death.
Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, said afterwards that he believed that in the early stages the hospital authorities were obstructive in their efforts to prevent the facts from being established.
In a more recent case, that of baby Archie Batten who died in 2019, tempers flared at a pre-inquest review in which the trust was accused of "deliberately" disrupting proceedings by his parents' lawyer Nick Fairweather,
He said he was "perplexed" why such little progress had been made and this was causing distress to the family.
Paul Spencer, who was representing the hospital trust, denied this was the case.
Anyone wishing to contact the investigating team can do so by emailing email@example.com or by calling 01233 227709.
For more about the investigation, click here.