Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust: Criminal Charges for Maternity Negligence?
Recent news reports have again highlighted sub-standard care in Shropshire, overseen by the National Health Service trust that manages hospitals in the Shrewsbury, Telford and North Powys areas. Now, the public body could be subject to criminal charges after a lengthy series of blunders and a shocking degree of negligence came to light.
The Salop-based trust runs the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Apley Castle, Telford. It also manages the nearby Wrekin Community Clinic at Euston House, along with Oswestry’s maternity unit. Worryingly, NHS maternity care provision for mothers-to-be in this part of Shropshire has long been a focus of investigation for negligence and malpractice.
History of Blunders
Apparently, for more than four decades, hospital maternity department and medical staff have overseen the avoidable losses of dozens of babies. At the same time, other newborn infants have suffered brain damage – sometimes severe and requiring a lifetime of care.
So extensive is the problem that the NHS looks set to face further hefty compensation bills and legal costs. Designed to compensate patients and their families for the suffering they claim to have undergone, the sizeable damages awards relate to problems caused by sub-standard treatment, oversights and omissions. Now, it also seems that the Shropshire healthcare trust might be criminally responsible for the worst UK maternity scandal ever known.
In 2017, under the responsibility of an independent midwife, an initial investigation began following a cluster of deaths in mothers and babies. At first, suspicions of poor maternity care prompted the scrutiny of some twenty-three cases. Progressively, however, in response to information received from distraught mothers, the enquiry widened to deal with dozens and then hundreds of deaths and severe handicap. As families came forward to complain about the lack of proper pre and post-natal care, experienced healthcare professionals became increasingly troubled by the systemic failures.
Astonishingly, by July 2020, reports put the number of documented cases at more than 1,600. One widely reported and tragic incident in 2009 involved Richard Stanton and Rihanna Davies, whose daughter Kate died only six hours after being born. The subsequent inquest determined that the death would have been avoidable if healthcare staff had noticed symptoms during the latter stages of Ms Davis’s pregnancy and after delivery of the baby.
So far, according to reported leaks, enquiries have detected toxic undercurrents in the hospital’s working environment. Additionally, patients and their representatives have voiced frustration and bamboozlement at the lack of progress, labelling statements from health service managers as empty rhetoric.
Notably, the Care and Quality Commission had rated the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust inadequate when widespread concerns had come to its attention. At the time of writing (summer 2020), the CQC was reviewing patient care provision at the county’s Princess Royal Hospital.
West Mercia Police also confirmed it was reviewing the sad saga. Geoff Wessel, the force’s assistant chief constable, stated that work was underway to determine whether sufficient evidence existed for criminal proceedings. Such action could be against either the healthcare trust or the individual medical practitioners concerned.
At trial(s), offences that occurred from 2008 may attract charges of corporate manslaughter. As Mr Wessel explained, police investigators had already met with NHS representatives, the independent reviewer and the Department of Health to discuss the proceedings. Because the investigation was currently live, he was not able to comment further.
In turn, on behalf of the NHS trust, chief executive Louise Bonnet affirmed that the organisation was cooperating in full with the police investigation. She went on to reassure families that management was listening and would continue to act on feedback received.
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