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'Staggering': Vital that lessons are learned over Shropshire maternity scandal, say lawyers

Shrewsbury | Health | Published:

Lawyers representing some of the families affected by failings in maternity services at Shropshire's main hospitals have called for lessons to be learned following the deaths of mothers and babies amid a “toxic” culture.

Princess Royal Hospital, Telford, left, and Royal Shrewsbury Hospital

It comes after an interim report into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH), stretching back 40 years, was leaked.

The report details a catalogue of concerns and reveals that dozens of babies and mothers are thought to have died or been left disabled due to poor care at the trust, which runs Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Telford's Princess Royal Hospital.

It says children were left with permanent disability, that staff routinely dismissed parents’ concerns, were unkind, got dead babies’ names wrong and, in one instance, referred to a baby who died as “it”.

In another case, parents were not told their baby’s body had arrived back from the post-mortem examination, and it was left to decompose so badly that the family never got to say a final goodbye.

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Specialist medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have represented a number of families affected by maternity services failings while receiving care from the trust.

They have expressed their concern at the findings of the report, which also warned that lessons were not being learned and staff were uncommunicative with families.

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'Great concern'

Lisa Jordan, head of medical negligence at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The scale of the problems connected to maternity services is extremely worrying.

“Not only are the issues identified in the report of great concern but many seem to have been avoidable.

“That lessons appear not to have been learned and the situation has arguably been allowed to turn into the biggest maternity scandal in the NHS – following issues at Mid Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay hospitals – is staggering.

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“While sadly it is too late for the families involved it is now vital that decisive action is taken to ensure that lessons are finally learned. Hopefully others will then not have to suffer the heartbreak of losing a loved one through maternity failings.”

Beth Heath, clinical negligence solicitor at Lanyon Bowdler, is also acting on behalf of families who have been affected.

She said the report was “sadly not surprising” but made for horrific reading.

“We have been working on behalf of a significant number of families who have suffered bereavement and life-changing brain injuries as a result of failings at these hospitals, and we are therefore acutely aware of how this scandal has affected them, and continues to do so," she said.

“The contents of the leaked report are sadly not surprising given that we have seen repeated failings over a substantial number of years, with little apparent learning from previous mistakes.

“We have seen action plans within investigation reports that year after year have been very similar with no real change or improvement.

“It has been clear that major failings took place which led to the deaths and severe brain injuries of babies, which could have been avoided, and it now looks like the failings go back even further than anyone feared.

New enquiries

“This report will inevitably cause more worry for our local community, and in particular expectant mothers, and we will continue working on behalf of local families whose lives have been shattered due to clinical errors at SaTH.”

The firm says it has recently received a raft of new enquiries from worried families – with 20 new enquiries this morning alone.

Kay Kelly, head of clinical negligence, said: “New enquiries are coming in quickly from other families who have suffered heartbreaking bereavements or life-changing injuries whilst being cared for by Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals in recent years.

“We already feared that the failings had been worse than originally reported, and with every new family who comes forward, the number of clinical negligence cases against SaTH is likely to grow.”

One of Lanyon Bowdler’s clients, Sharon Morris, whose daughter suffered a brain injury 14 years ago, said: “I am not shocked at these findings. Every day for the last 14 years we are constantly reminded of the failure by SaTH to help me give birth to healthy twins.

'They were monitoring the wrong heartbeat'

“I was prepared for a caesarean after baby number one, but during that time they failed to notice my baby number two was in distress because they were monitoring the wrong heartbeat.

“My daughter was starved of oxygen during this time and is now severely disabled, needing 24-hour care, can't eat, can't speak, struggles to walk and has learning and behavioural issues.

“This was not something we signed up for and I would not wish it upon anyone. No amount of money can change things and all we can now hope for is that changes are made to ensure other families don't suffer like we do. How can we trust the NHS?”

The trust's interim chief exective Paula Clark said her staff had not seen the findings of the interim report, but have been acting on evidence from previous cases.

She has also apologised to the families who have been affected.

The inquiry, which is now looking at more than 270 cases from 1979 to the present day, was ordered by the government in 2017.

It came after concerns were raised by grieving parents Rhiannon and Richard Stanton-Davies, and Kayleigh and Colin Griffiths.

They had contacted the-then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over 23 cases, including those of their daughters, Kate Stanton-Davies, and Pippa Griffiths, who died shortly after being born in the trust’s care.

Cases include stillbirths, deaths during pregnancy, deaths of babies shortly after delivery, deaths of mums, cases of substandard care as well as birth injury cases such as cerebral palsy and other brain injuries.

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