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The Department of Health initially requested an investigation into 23 untoward baby and maternal deaths at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust in 2017 but this soon became more extensive with over 270 deaths being investigated. It is understood that there are now over 1800 alleged cases involving deaths or serious harm to mothers and babies over a 40-year period.
Concerns were initially raised in 2016 about 23 cases involving stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain damage at maternity services within the Shrewsbury and Telford hospital NHS trust. They included the parents of Kate Stanton-Davies, who died shortly after her birth in 2009, and Pippa Griffiths, who died just after she was born in 2016.
In 2017 the then health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, ordered an independent review by the maternity specialist Donna Ockenden. She was tasked with investigating “a number of alleged avoidable neonatal and maternal deaths and cases of avoidable maternity and newborn harm” at the trust. But after the launch of the review, hundreds more families came forward with concerns about the care they received.
Ockenden has identified 1,862 cases that raise serious concerns and warrant investigation. The vast majority of the cases date back to between 2000 to 2018. The numbers involved make it one of the worst scandals in the history of the NHS and could exceed the problems unearthed in the notorious Mid Staffordshire scandal, where between 400 and 1,200 patients died as a result of poor care. In Shrewsbury and Telford an additional 496 cases have been identified recently.
The exact figures will not be known until Ockenden completes her review. She plans to publish an interim report by the end of this year. Several hundred cases involved either stillbirths, neonatal deaths or brain damage. There were also known to be at least 10 maternal deaths over a short period.
In June West Mercia police confirmed they were looking into the worst of the cases, in an investigation named Operation Lincoln. It will identify whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges of corporate or individual manslaughter.
NHS Improvement led a so-called “open book” review of the trust’s maternity services aimed at full disclosure of the problems. But it focused only on cases that were recorded in digital form and ignored cases recorded on paper.
Campaigners including Rhiannon Davies, the mother of Kate Stanton-Davies, believe there was. She challenges how committed the NHS was to an open review when it failed to request problem cases recorded only in paper form. She also successfully fought off an attempt to impose an oversight committee on the Ockenden review, which she claimed could hamper the investigation.
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Louise Barnett, the chief executive of Shrewsbury and Telford hospital NHS trust, has issued an open apology to the community. “Our standards of care have fallen short for many families and I apologies deeply for this,” she said.
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