Yesterday saw the publication of a stark and upsetting report into the care provided to women and babies at the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust. It makes for hard reading, especially for local people – many of whom have experienced care within trust’s hospitals or know relatives who have.
Many people in our area either personally know, or have heard of a family, who have lost a baby due to poor care received at either the QEQM hospital in Margate or the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford between 2009 and 2020 (the period of time the report considered). Our hearts go out to them, and all our thoughts remain with the families who will forever grieve children lost too soon. The report published yesterday examined those cases where babies died and many other cases of baby injury, maternal death and other physical harm caused by suboptimal care.
Dr Bill Kirkup’s report has revealed that the lives of 45 babies could have been saved in East Kent if they had received proper care. The report also details how if only East Kent’s standards of care had been raised to nationally recognised standards, the outcomes would have been different in 97 of the 202 cases the report reviewed.
The report has also been of profound importance to me personally: I gave birth to my own children in Margate’s QEQM hospital. One of my longer stays there was because one of my babies had contracted suspected sepsis during the delivery. I never sought or received answers as to the cause of the infection; after many, many days on a drip my son came home. However, during my long stay on the maternity ward, I witnessed many things raised in the Kirkup Report. I had a staff member crying at the end of my bed because she was exhausted; I had test results get lost; a wonderful member of staff was unprofessionally berated by another within earshot; I had to occupy a bed that someone else could have had because a Bank Holiday meant things within the hospital just didn’t get done – there weren’t the staff to do them; I also heard staff criticising parents and eye-rolling at things overheard in the hallway outside my room. Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, has called the culture at the hospitals ‘toxic and dysfunctional’. I saw that to be true.
Getting this report published is just a stage in the bereaved East Kent families’ fight for justice. To quote Labour’s Shadow Minister for Health and Social Care, Feryal Clark, ‘It isn’t a case of a few bad apples; what happened at East Kent, just like what happened at Shrewsbury and Morecambe Bay was years of systemic negligence that cost lives…for too long people turned a blind eye and tolerated the intolerable. Underpinning the issues in maternity care…is workforce; more midwives are leaving the professional than joining. There is now a shortage of over 2000 midwives in England. We just don’t have the staff to provide good and safe care.’
So, what should be done? Well firstly, the government must provide the staff maternity services need to provide universal and safe care. In East Kent, we need reassuring that our maternity services are now safe. There needs to be great accountability for the mistakes and culture highlighted in the report: without this accountability, scandals like this at East Kent will occur in other hospital trusts, or will continue to occur here. The government needs to bring forward the publication of legislation which would give coroners the powers to investigate stillbirths and the government needs to bring forward the publication of all the new data they and the trust hold on neonatal deaths. Finally, and importantly given the stage of healthcare here in East Kent, all future reconfiguration of maternity services in the area must consider maternal and neo-natal safety as a key (and public) part of any future plans.
Again, to finish, there is no greater tragedy than losing a child. We remain thinking of and supporting those who lost babies, partners and daughters because of the negligence and culture in East Kent hospitals. It is for them that we must – as a community – be loud about the fact that these mistakes can never happen again.