Arti Shah comments on maternity negligence at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust | Fieldfisher
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Arti Shah comments on maternity negligence at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust

Arti Shah
In an ongoing investigation into sub-standard maternity care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, it has emerged that a further 496 cases since 2000 are now also under review, including neonatal death, stillbirths, brain damage and maternal death.

This brings the total number of cases being examined in the independent maternity review, led by midwifery expert Donna Ockenden, to 1,862. West Mercia police also launched a criminal investigation last month into possible corporate manslaughter charges being brought against the Trust, which has also been criticised for covering up and manipulating results of an initial report.

The additional 496 cases have only emerged now because, previously, an 'open book' initiative led by the NHS in 2018 only asked for digital records of cases acknowledged as cause for serious concern Most of the 496 cases were recorded in paper documents only. The Trust has been in special measures for some time.

It is almost impossible to comment on the distress suffered by families who have lost babies, suffered harm, and who continue to live with the repercussions of the failures on a daily basis, due to medical negligence by the Trust. This is not least because ongoing substandard care had long been identified by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), but little had clearly been done to improve it.

Worryingly, the Trust was also found to perpetuate a culture of defensiveness, denial and lack of openness in maternity services. This not only allowed substandard care to continue unquestioned and unchallenged over the years, but will have proved to be a huge obstruction for families seeking information and closure about what happened to their babies.

In the maternity negligence cases with which I am involved, an honest response from the Trust, including accountability, compliance with the duty of candour, and a sincere apology go a long way to allow parents any chance of coming to terms with tragedy. That and an assurance that lessons will be learnt to prevent anyone else having to go through similar.

None of these concessions were available to the families concerned and, even worse, it is now clear there was a deliberate attempt to cover up years of failings identified in the RCOG report due to the potential negative media scrutiny that (quite rightly) may have ensued.

Earlier this year, following settlement of my case involving the death of Andrew Witkowska-Blunden due to failings during delivery at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, I spoke on the BBC about the importance of funding and training to improve NHS maternity care and to keep mothers and their babies safe. I repeat the call to prevent further tragedies of this nature occurring.

This wide reaching scandal involving the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust must now be thoroughly investigated with full transparency so that the public's trust in NHS maternity care can be restored. I echo the comments recently made by the Trust's Chief Executive, Louise Barnett, that "An apology is not enough. What needs to be seen is evidence of real improvement".

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