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Parents devastated by damning report of Brighton hospitals after losing baby

Rebecca Drew
Rebecca Drew is supporting at inquest the parents of a baby boy who died last December following maternity failings at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton. She is also investigating a maternity negligence claim on behalf of the family against the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust which runs the hospital.

The inquest into the death of Walter German who died at nine days' old will take place next May. Walter was born unresponsive after a long labour and had to be resuscitated. He suffered a brain injury from which he could not recover and his parents made the decision to remove life support.

After Walter was born, a midwife acknowledged they had not been aware of his mother's history (despite this being recorded in her notes) and that she had suffered a third-degree tear in her pregnancy three years previously, when she had her first son.

Walter suffered shoulder dystocia and was born with the cord around his neck after medical staff failed to recognise his fetal heart rate clearly indicated distress. An HSIB report identified several failures in Eileen's care particularly the failure to refer Eileen to an obstetrician to discuss her previous history of a third-degree tear. This meant she was not given the opportunity to consider the risks of sustaining another tear or the possibility of opting for a caesarean section.

The report also identified several failures during labour including lack of fetal monitoring and failure to escalate to the obstetric team to ensure presence at birth.

Meanwhile, almost exactly a year after Walter's death, the Care Quality Commission issued a report following an unannounced inspection of the hospital after it had received concerning information about the safety and quality of maternity services.

The report identified a bullying culture in which staff said that they were told to stop reporting unsafe staffing levels.

Departments across Brighton hospitals run by the Trust were found not to have enough staff to care for women and babies to keep them safe. Staff were not up to date with training in key skills, women attending the triage service were not managed on the basis of risk, rather individual risks were assessed in a subjective way, and leaders at the Royal Sussex were felt to be far less visible and accessible (than those in other hospitals).

The rating for surgery and maternity at the Royal Sussex County Hospital dropped from 'good' to 'inadequate' overall.

A warning notice has been issued to the Trust requiring it to immediately make significant improvements to staffing, training, governance and the overall culture of the services, to ensure the safe care and treatment of patients.

Walter's parents said they were devastated to read the report. Had they known about safety issues in the maternity service they would never have opted to have their baby at the hospital, they said.

They also said they thought long and hard about the ethical issues of claiming against the NHS but felt it was the only way they would get answers about what happened and ensure such a tragedy did not happen again.

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