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Councillors say East Kent Hospitals Trust needs to be held 'accountable' after maternity ward failings

A hospital trust needs to be held properly "accountable" over maternity ward failings which led to deaths of newborn babies, a panel was told.

East Kent Hospitals Trust came into the firing line from councillors sitting on Kent County Council's health and overview scrutiny committee earlier today.

QEQM Hospital in Margate. Picture: Google Street View
QEQM Hospital in Margate. Picture: Google Street View

More than 40 serious cases are being investigated - one committee member said - after a coroner ruled nine months ago that the death of newborn Harry Richford at Margate's QEQM in 2017 was "wholly avoidable".

The Trust says that steps are being taken to improve the service, including the hiring of four extra consultant obstetricians at QEQM, who are specialist doctors in providing medical care to women during pregnancy and birth.

Nine have also been recruited at Ashford 's Wiliam Harvey hospital this year, with working hours extended to 24/7 at the Kennington Road site and until 10pm at QEQM. The Trust says experienced staff are present on both wards.

More senior midwives have also been hired as they seek to address areas where improvements were required by Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors in January, notably governance and provision of safe care.

However, during the virtual public meeting Gravesham council cabinet member Shane Mochrie-Cox (Lab), who is a member of the KCC's health scrutiny committee, called for the Trust to take more responsibility for the failings.

Harry Richford died at QEQM Hospital (42305550)
Harry Richford died at QEQM Hospital (42305550)

Cllr Mochrie-Cox said: "There seems to be a level of accountability where it does not become accountability, it becomes writing action plans."

He added: "The silver bullet seems to be scorecards and additional numbers. I am not quite sure when we are talking about 'people' and 'services' that is going to be the best way forward.

"I want an absolute commitment that it's patients and their voices and their experiences that will drive service delivery and improvements rather than more dashboards, more data and more remote decision making."

Dr John Seaton, who was recently appointed the Trust's clinical director for women's health to "strengthen" its leadership at senior level, said a five-year strategy was being worked on to look at the key aims for the Trust to achieve with the service by 2025. It would include input from all staff and patients, he added.

But Cllr Mochrie-Cox said the voice of the "family" should be looked into and said there is a whole family unit of support.

The William Harvey in Ashford
The William Harvey in Ashford

One of the executives at the Trust said they are taking a "family view" into consideration.

Thanet county councillor Karen Constantine (Lab), also a committee member, said: "There have been 40 serious incidents and deaths including the babies of Archie Batten and Harry Richford, I wondered if you could clarify what stage if any criminal investigations are at?"

The Trust said it would not be able to comment and pointed Cllr Constantine to the Government-commissioned team reviewing this for answers, but the executives added that they were working "positively" with them during the probe.

A further update will be presented to KCC's health scrutiny committee when the independent investigation into maternity services provided by the Trust is completed and published by Dr Bill Kirkup next year.

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