A report produced by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in November 2016 prompts investigations into the services provided by the neonatal department at the Countess of Chester hospital.
In May this year, the NHS trust contacted Cheshire police to launch investigations into the unexplained rising number of baby deaths at the hospital to help them rule out unnatural causes of death.
In 2010, 1 baby death was reported at the hospital compared to 8 baby deaths in 2015. In 2016, this figure declined to 5, but this has still raised concerns. The trust has said that they have carried out their own internal review at the hospital, but this has failed to provide further explanation and police intervention is now required. Cheshire police have said that they will focus on the 15 babies since 2015.
The review found no single cause for the increase, but did establish that the level of staffing, in particular, the number of senior and managerial staff at the neonatal unit was unsatisfactory. Other failures identified included poor shift cover and planning and repeated administrative errors.
The neonatal unit at the Countess of Cheshire hospital cares for around 400 babies annually, but following the review, the trust has decided to exclude any baby born earlier than 32 weeks to be admitted into the hospital’s care. This was implemented in July 2016. The trust has stated that this is only a temporary and precautionary mechanism and that they were confident that the unit is and will remain a safe place for mothers and their babies.
To reassure families in the area, the hospital has now confirmed that more than 20 of the recommendations listed in the review to help improve the standard of care have now been implemented at the hospital. This includes increasing the number of staff on duty per shift and improving the leadership and training of the senior members.
Cheshire police and the trust respectively have acknowledged that the investigations at the hospital will cause considerable distress to those affected. Collectively, they have agreed to use all resources available to avoid any delay in the investigations and to share all of the information with the families involved.
Adam Hodson, Solicitor at the Medical Accident Group says, “The loss of any child is a true heartbreak, but this is intensified where the cause remains unknown and the families cannot get closure. Appropriately, the hospital has requested the police of Cheshire to get involved to try and get to the bottom of this. I hope, with the police and hospital staff working together, that this can be concluded swiftly and the families will be provided with answers.
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