Controversial panel set-up to investigate NHS baby deaths is disbanded

Controversial review panel set-up to investigate baby deaths at scandal-hit NHS trust is disbanded over conflict of interest claims

  • 220 suspicious incidents at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust are being probed
  • Families last week expressed fury at the supervising panel of the inquiry 
  • They accused some of the experts of being implicated in the scandal 
  • NHS Improvement announced today it had disbanded the controversial panel 
  • Its chief operating officer said families will be’ given the answers they need’ 

Health officials have ditched a panel of experts reviewing scores of deaths at a scandal-hit maternity unit amid conflict of interest fears.

The Government-ordered inquiry is reviewing around 220 suspicious incidents at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust dating back two decades – including 200 deaths.

However, last week families expressed fury at the supervising panel, accusing some of the experts of being implicated in the scandal.

And now NHS Improvement has disbanded the controversial panel, saying it will ensure that families are given the answers they need.

Rhiannon Davies from Ludlow, Shropshire, pictured with her daughter Kate moments after she was born on March 1, 2009. The infant died just six hours later

Families at the heart of the scandal believe the appointments were put in place to water down the review’s findings.

Today the affected families praised the NHS Improvement annoucement, claiming the ‘obstruction of truth has been prevented’.

Allegations of a cover-up or conflict of interest have been rejected by those on the panel.

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NHS Improvement chief operating officer, Dr Kathy McLean, said the body was committed to ensuring Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust learns as much as it can from the review.

Dr McLean added: ‘In response to feedback from families, NHS Improvement has decided to stand down the independent review panel.’

She claimed the intention had ‘always’ been to provide additional scrutiny to the review, being undertaken by senior independent midwife Donna Ockenden.

Richard Stanton, pictured with his wife Rhiannon Stanton-Davies, pictured, last week accused the NHS trust of trying to cover up the cause of their daughter’s death

Maternity staff wouldn’t listen to us

Devan Cadwallader was admitted to Princess Royal Hospital, Telford, carrying a healthy baby.

But in the delivery suite four days later, doctors told her that daughter Quinn had no heartbeat.

Mrs Cadwallader, 25, said that before going into labour she told hospital staff that the baby’s movement had slowed down, but she was assured everything was normal.

Devan Cadwallader pictured with her husband Gavin

The findings of an internal review were inconclusive, and a post-mortem examination failed to find a cause of death.

Mrs Cadwallader and her husband Gavin, from Shrewsbury, believe their baby’s stillbirth last December was preventable. ‘If our concerns had been listened to, she could have survived,’ she said.

The hospital trust said it had asked the couple if they would allow their case to be referred to the independent review of its maternity services.

But Dr McLean added: ‘It is clear that its role has prompted concerns, which we hope are now resolved.

‘The review remains completely independent and NHS Improvement will ensure that families are given the answers they need and that lessons are learnt.’

The panel included the head of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which produced a damning report into the trust two years ago that went unpublished.

Instead, the college was allegedly paid by the trust to write up a glowing ‘progress update’ nine months later which essentially whitewashed their own findings.

Had the college published its first report – or alerted NHS watchdogs – subsequent tragedies may have been avoided.

The review’s panel also included the head of the Royal College of Midwives, which for years has been focussed on women having natural births rather than caesareans.

Furthermore, the Royal College of Midwives is the union representing those midwives from the trust whose alleged poor care led to tragedy.

The panel also includes two officials from NHS Improvement, the regulator which failed to pick up on the trust’s higher-than-average baby death rate.

And the panel also included staff from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which had previously written reports on the trust.

Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton, the parents of baby Kate, who died at the trust in 2009, praised the intervention.

In a statement to the Health Service Journal, the parents said: ‘Thanks again to the incredible strength of bereaved families.

‘Working in conjunction with respected media, the obstruction of the truth has been prevented.

‘The removal of this so-called scrutiny panel is the right decision, the only decision.

The Government-ordered inquiry is reviewing around 220 suspicious incidents at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust – including 200 deaths

Shrewsbury’s maternity services have been in the spotlight since April 2017, when the former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a review (pictured, a Mail headline last August)

‘We can only hope the professionals with whom Donna Ockenden is conducting her review will not have been so grossly insulted by the creation of the panel that they choose to quit.’

Last week, it emerged that a CQC panel member, Nigel Acheson, had previously led an inspection of the trust in 2017.

A year after his ‘requires improvement’ verdict, the CQC went back to the trust and rated it inadequate with serious safety concerns in maternity.

In a statement, Professor Ted Baker, CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said the watchdog did not believe Dr Acheson was conflicted.

Both the RCOG and RCM have rejected claims they were compromised by being members of the panel.

Shrewsbury’s maternity services have been in the spotlight since April 2017, when the former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a review.

It was initially investigating 23 cases of alleged poor care but in recent months it has expanded as dozens more families have come forward.

Some claim their babies died after they were encouraged to have natural births, while others accuse midwives of missing fatal infections in their newborns.

The total number of babies who have died or been harmed is expected to eclipse the tragedy at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay in Cumbria.

There, 16 babies and three women died unnecessarily over ten years.

The failures at Shrewsbury have been pinned on a lack of training, a culture of denial and a failure to intervene when labours went wrong. 

I was crying out for a caesarean 

A baby was left with a huge bruise on his head after he became trapped in his mother’s pelvis at one of the scandal-hit maternity wards.

Amy Butler, 25, said a consultant used forceps to yank her son during her delivery in August 2016, leaving his head marked and swollen.

She also claimed midwives mistakenly left her fully dilated for five hours, leaving her baby at risk of serious brain damage and herself in agony.

Miss Butler begged medical staff for a C-section during her seven-hour ordeal at Princess Royal Hospital in Telford but was told a natural birth was best.

Miss Butler, from Telford, said: ‘I am absolutely disgusted. I was crying out for a C-section but the midwives told me I was perfectly fine to go into labour.

‘Bradley got stuck in the pelvis and suffered a terrible bruise. His swelling was so severe it came over his eyes. Thankfully, he didn’t suffer any major problems but it could have been worse.

‘The midwives didn’t realise I was fully dilated for five hours, which is dangerous. I’ve got a gut feeling that if I wasn’t left dilated for that long then Bradley wouldn’t have got stuck in the pelvis.

‘I thought nothing of it before I read other parents’ stories in the Daily Mail.

‘Bradley was very slow developing. He’s just turned two and he’s only been walking for a month-and-a-half. He couldn’t sit up until he was ten months old.’

A spokesman for the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust said: ‘We have received no formal complaint in this matter. We would be happy to discuss this with Miss Butler.’

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