Updated: ‘Not good enough’ hospital chief apologises over baby death toll scandal at MK maternity unit

Milton Keynes Hospital
Milton Keynes Hospital

History is repeating itself with the deaths of FIVE more newborn babies following staff failures at the hospital maternity unit.

The tragic toll mirrors the controversial Morecombe Bay hospital, which suffered 11 allegedly preventable baby deaths in nine years.

Milton Keynes has now seen at least eight such deaths in two separate periods over the last eight years.

The latest five deaths happened over eight months between 2013 and 2014.

But this week hospital bosses insisted the maternity unit was safe, and reassured parents-to-be that major improvements had been made.

Most of the deaths involved staff failing to recognise or act upon warning signs of foetal distress.

All the babies were full term and previously healthy, and in each case parents claim speedier medical intervention could have saved their lives.

The new spate began just three years after the hospital was put on special measures over its baby death statistics.

Between 2007 and 2010 three babies had died due to midwife and doctor failures - a situation slammed as “scandalous” by coroner Tom Osborne .

As a result a CQC task force was put into the unit for a year. But in July 2013 problems recurred when staff failed to act after an unborn baby girl developed an abnormal heartbeat during labour.

The child was born with asphyxia and died two days later.

In November the same year two baby boys died shortly after they were born 24 days apart. Once again, vital clues from their deteriorating heartbeats during labour had been ignored for too long.

In all three cases the hospital admitted liability and offered a settlement – of around £20,000. The parents all refused and are now launching legal action.

Two more babies died between November 2013 and March 2014. In each case the hospital has admitted the care was “not good enough.”.

Meanwhile there is a sixth case, involving a baby boy born in January this year. An inquest will shortly decide whether failures by the hospital contributed to his death.

Lawyer Gary Williams of Osborne Morris & Morgan solicitors is acting for four of the bereaved families.

He told the Citizen: “These deaths should not have occurred and each of them is an absolute tragedy. Warning signs were not acted upon and national guidelines and the hospital’s own protocol were not followed.”

The hospital’s medical director has this week apologised and admitted the care received by the five tragic mums and babies was “not good enough”.

Professor Martin Wetherill told the Citizen: “We have made extensive changes to the way we work to prevent such failings happening again.”

He said all the recent baby deaths had been thoroughly investigated by external experts, including the renowned Professor Timothy Draycott.

“Professor Draycott’s review, which has been shared with the families concerned, identified failures in the care provided in each of the five cases,” he said.

The failures concerned heart-rate monitoring and the escalation of concerns.

Hospital chief executive Joe Harrison described the findings as “complex” and said it was impossible to conclude unequivocally whether there would have been a different outcome with different care.

The Trust has since acted upon every recommendation for improvement made by the Professor.

Actions include a new clinical and managerial leadership team, updating monitoring equipment, additional training for midwives and centralised reviews of all women in labour. There are also new ‘rapid escalation processes’ in place for when abnormal foetal monitoring traces are identified.

As a result of these improvements, a Care Quality Commission inspection in October last year rated the obstetric and maternity department as “good” in every domain.

Professor Wetherill said: “I would like to reassure women who are pregnant and due to give birth at the hospital that the maternity unit is safe.”

“We have worked very hard to ensure the issues identified in these sad cases have been fully addressed.”

He has invited any pregnant women and their partners who are anxious to come into the unit and talk to the midwifery team if they have concerns about their care.

The latest deaths mirror the almost identical tragic events between 2007 and 2010 when three babies died.

Romy Feast, Ebony Rose McCall-Comley and Alex Broughton were all full term and born after healthy pregnancies.

In each case, staff failed to act quickly enough during labour, when changes in the infants’ heart rates during labour indicated they were going into distress. All three babies died shortly after birth.

The resulting criticism from Coroner Tom Osborne led the hospital being placed on special measures by the CQC.

When these were lifted in 2011, the hospital announced its maternity unit was “as safe as any in the country”.

Bosses have described the deaths of Romy, Ebony Rose and Alex as “historic issues” and say the recent spate of losses is not linked.