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East Kent baby deaths: Trust asked to return to Kent County Council scrutiny committee

The NHS trust at the centre of an inquiry over baby deaths at East Kent hospitals has been asked to appear for a second time before a council scrutiny committee.

Kent County Council's health and overview scrutiny committee members have expressed their "concerns" around the failings in maternity care at East Kent Hospitals Trust with at least 15 baby deaths being independently investigated.

East Kent Hospital Trust will be scrutinised again
East Kent Hospital Trust will be scrutinised again

This comes just days after an internal review found there was "insufficient evidence" to demonstrate that key recommendations of a 2016 report from the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology were implemented.

Thanet county councillor Karen Constantine (Lab), who is a member of KCC's health and overview scrutiny committee (HOSC), said: "There are a number of mums, mums to be and grandparents deeply concerned about what's happening with the failure of maternity services at QEQM."

In a written report, East Kent Hospitals Trust board told the KCC committee that it was taking a "robust approach" in tackling the problem.

A Trust report published to the KCC committee last week stated: "The Trust board is determined to ensure continuous improvement in maternity services and that it must and will ensure the delivery of a maternity service that our local residents and local representatives can be proud of."

The review comes after an inquest in January where a coroner ruled that the death of baby boy Harry Richford at Margate's QEQM in 2017 was "wholly avoidable". Several other families have since come forward to raise concerns about the care they received from the Trust.

"I fully believe that what we need is a public inquiry because it is such a serious issue..."

Speaking during a virtual public meeting involving KCC's HOSC committee on Wednesday, Cllr Constantine added: "We are talking about avoidable deaths here and that has got to be challenged.

"We have got to be in a position where we can stop that and there is clearly a rising infant mortality rate.

"This is 2020 and we should not have anywhere in the UK a rising infant mortality rate."

She asked her colleagues to invite the East Kent NHS Trust to the next HOSC meeting in September and ask them to fully explain their situation and what steps are being taken to remedy the problems faced in the maternity ward.

This comes alongside an independent review into the failings led by Dr Bill Kirkup, who has started his investigation by meeting with families and a panel of experts. Although a final report is not expected to be published until 2021.

QEQM Hospital in Margate. Picture: Google Street View (38848944)
QEQM Hospital in Margate. Picture: Google Street View (38848944)

Cllr Constantine, of Ramsgate, added: "I fully believe that what we need is a public inquiry because it is such a serious issue."

Sittingbourne county councillor John Wright (Con), also a committee member, said the local health authority needed to "up the ante" in its dealings with the Trust and said the council needed to be more forceful in its approach.

A confidential briefing was held between councillors and the Trust on June 2 following the first public hearing involving KCC at County Hall, in Sessions House, Maidstone, four months ago.

On March 5, East Kent NHS Hospitals Trust updated the HOSC committee on its action plan for improving maternity services and had told Kent councillors that initial conclusions would be available by the end of April.

The KCC HOSC committee asked for an update at the "appropriate time" but councillors have voiced their concern over the "loose" terminology and have requested that the Trust to come before the scrutiny committee on Thursday, September 17.

Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), the chairman of KCC's health overview and scrutiny committee, who shared the concerns of his colleagues, said: "We will send the trust a clear message that we would like them back at the next meeting."

He added: "We are all like minded that we need to bring this to a rapid conclusion."

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