It is one of the biggest scandals against the NHS (National Health Service), the UK’s public health system. According to a report just released, a maternity hospital in the west of England was responsible for the deaths of 201 babies. Stunning conclusions that forced the UK government to issue a public apology on Wednesday. We summarize this case for you.
What happened ?
In 2009, Rhiannon Davies gave birth to a daughter, Kate, at Shrewsbury Hospital. But a few hours later the baby dies. Before the birth, several signs indicated that the unborn child was not in the best of health, but that the mother had not been kept under surveillance.
For years, Rhiannon Davies and her partner Richard Stanton collected reports of suspicious infant deaths at the same facility, compiling a total of 23. In 2017, they decided to present their research to then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The deputy orders a report to be published this Wednesday morning.
The survey looked at 1,592 incidents reported to Shrewsbury Hospital involving 1,486 families, mostly between 2000 and 2019. And the results are startling: not 23, but 201 babies allegedly could have lived if the maternity ward had a better one supply would have offered.
The 250-page report specifically mentions cases of newborns with skull fractures, broken bones and brain problems after being deprived of oxygen at the time of birth. Nine mothers died as a result of abuse, and “significant or serious” defects were found in a quarter of the 498 cases of stillborn babies studied.
How could that happen?
According to Donna Ockenden, who conducted the survey, “Ineffective fetal growth monitoring and a culture of reluctance to perform cesarean sections resulted in the deaths of many babies.” Motherhood, in fact, pushed for natural births to minimize the caesarean rate, and resorted to it all too infrequently.
In an initial report published in 2020, Donna Ockenden reported that the hospital caesarean section rate has consistently been between 8 and 12 points below the average in England over the past twenty years, figures presented as a sign of the hospital’s success. One in four births in the UK is by caesarean, according to NHS data.
The survey also points to “a lack of staff, training and leadership” within the maternity ward, as well as a “culture of not listening to affected families.” “There was a tendency in motherhood to blame mothers for their poor outcomes and in some cases for the death of their own child,” says Donna Ockenden.
“However, according to the renowned midwife, it is astonishing that these questions have not been discussed internally for more than two decades and that motherhood has not been held responsible”. In 40% of cases, no in-hospital examination was performed. The hospital “did not investigate [sur les incidents]learn [de ses erreurs]to improve”, Donna Ockenden complained.
what will happen now
“To all the families who have suffered seriously, I’m sorry,” British Health Minister Sajid Javid reacted to MPs on Wednesday. The report, he conceded, “clearly shows that you were not treated properly by a ministry that was there to help you and your loved ones give birth.”
“System change is needed at the local and national level,” said Donna Ockenden, who made many recommendations in her report. Nationwide, it took until 2017 for the midwives’ union to end its campaign to promote “natural births” without caesareans or even epidurals, and earlier this year the NHS urged hospitals to stop using caesarean rates as an indicator of their performance.
On the judiciary side, police launched an investigation called “Operation Lincoln” in 2020 to determine whether maternity or natural persons could be prosecuted. According to Sajid Javid, “around 600 cases” are being reviewed.