An NHS trust will be prosecuted for the avoidable death of a baby boy in the first case of its kind after hospital bosses failed to act on safety warnings.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will charge East Kent Hospitals University Trust with two criminal offences over the death of Harry Richford in 2017.

It is the first time the watchdog has prosecuted an NHS trust over a safety failure in the clinical care of patients under powers it was given in 2015 following the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital care disaster.

Although the CQC has prosecuted hospitals for health and safety-related failures it has never prosecuted an NHS trust for the unsafe care of patients.

In a statement, Harry’s family said: “We are pleased that the CQC have made the landmark decision in making a criminal prosecution of the East Kent Hospitals Trust regarding the unsafe care and treatment of Sarah and Harry Richford.

“It will now be for the courts to hear all of the evidence that the CQC and our family have amassed over the last three years and to decide whether the clinical care and treatment offered at that time could be considered safe; or whether there was a criminal breach of the duty of care that was clearly owed to both Sarah and Harry at their most vulnerable time.”

The CQC said the hospital trust will be charged with exposing baby Harry and his mother Sarah Richford to “significant risk of avoidable harm” under regulation 12 of the CQC’s fundamental standards. 

In a statement, current hospital chief executive Susan Acott said it had admitted failing to provide safe care and treatment for which it was “profoundly sorry”.  

The watchdog has been steadily increasing its enforcement action against the NHS and last month brought the first ever prosecution against an NHS hospital for not being honest with a family after a serious incident.

CQC chief executive Ian Trenholm has previously warned hospital bosses the regulator would take action where it found “patterns of behaviour or systematic failings that have resulted in serious harm or death”.

Baby Harry died on 9 November 2017, seven days after he was born on the 2 November.

After a traumatic caesarean delivery performed by an inexperienced locum doctor who had not been properly assessed by the trust and a delay of more than 25 minutes in helping him to breathe, Harry suffered a severe lack of oxygen and brain damage.

Earlier this year a coroner ruled Harry, who was born at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, died as a result of neglect following “wholly avoidable” catastrophic errors by panicking doctors and midwives.

His family helped expose wider safety failings in the trust’s maternity department, which is now being investigated by an independent inquiry, led by Dr Bill Kirkup.

Between 2014 and 2018 there were 68 baby deaths for children aged under 28 days old and of those, 54 died within their first seven days. There were 143 stillbirths with 138 starved of oxygen during their birth.

An expert review of the maternity services by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) carried out in 2015 warned of many of the issues that played a part in Harry’s death but was not acted on by managers at the time.

Concerns over maternity safety at East Kent come as almost 1,900 alleges cases of poor care are under investigation at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust after The Independent revealed in November last year that the trust was facing the largest maternity scandal in NHS history.

Earlier this week the Care Quality Commission said it would be launching safety inspections of poorly performing maternity units amid concerns over safety. 

On Monday a coroner rules baby Wynter Andrews died as a result of neglect and unsafe care at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust in September 2019.

The family statement added: “The Kirkup Inquiry will carry on their work looking into the way maternity services were delivered since 2009 for all families affected, with the aim of finding the truth and ensuring these circumstances cannot be repeated. We would encourage anyone with any kind of maternity issue in East Kent since 2009 to make contact with the inquiry to share their story.

“Our family have been in the spotlight for nearly three years; now is our time to pass the responsibility of finding the truth and ensuring lasting change in East Kent to the CQC, the courts, Bill Kirkup and indeed the government.  With this in mind we would ask for our privacy to be respected at this time.”

East Kent Hospitals chief executive, Ms Acott, added: “We are deeply sorry and apologise unreservedly for our failure to provide safe care and treatment resulting in the death of baby Harry in November 2017.

“Mr and Mrs Richford’s expectation was that they would welcome a healthy baby into their family. We are deeply sorry that we failed in our role to help them do that and for the devastating loss of baby Harry.

“We recognise the mistakes in both Harry’s delivery and subsequent resuscitation and that Harry’s family was not given the support and answers they needed at the time. We deeply regret the extra pain that this caused them.

“The trust has admitted to the CQC that it failed to provide safe care and treatment for which we are profoundly sorry.”

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United Kingdom National Health Service, Care Quality Commission

World news – GB – NHS hospital to face charges over baby death in first case of its kind

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