Legal first in UK as NHS trust fined for baby's death

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An NHS trust has been fined a record US$1 million (£761,000) following a landmark prosecution by the Care Quality Commission for failing to protect baby Harry Richford and his mother from avoidable mistakes that led to Harry’s death, writes Shaun Lintern for The Independent. The case sparked an inquiry that is now examining almost 200 cases.

East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust was handed the in the past week at Folkestone Magistrates Courtafter pleading guilty in April to failing to provide safe care to mum Sarah Richford and her baby Harry Richford.

It is the first prosecution of its kind by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), where an NHS trust failed to provide safe clinical care to patients.

Harry died as a result of “wholly avoidable” mistakes by staff at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, in November 2017. He was delivered by caesarean section but delays helping him to breathe led to him suffering a severe lack of oxygen and brain damage.

According to The Independent, a coroner ruled that the mistakes amounted to neglect by the trust, which had failed to act on earlier safety warnings that could have helped prevent the tragedy.

The trust is now facing a wider inquiry by Dr Bill Kirkup into almost 200 maternity cases, including the deaths of other mothers and babies and children left with severe brain damage. Police are also considering a criminal investigation into the poor maternity care.

In a statement to the court Harry’s mother Sarah Richford said: “There’s no way I can truly encapsulate the pain, upset and anger that I’ve experienced after what happened to Harry at his birth.

“I never imagined that I would feel so helpless, exhausted and distressed lying on an operating table listening to a room full of panicking people who I was relying on to safely deliver Harry.”

District Judge Justin Barron said the aim of his sentence was to “bring it home” to the trust that it needed to change, adding: “It has to put in place practices and procedures to ensure that what happened to you, doesn't happen to anybody else.”

There were clear “system failures” he said adding: “I don’t have any difficulty finding that this is a case of high culpability” and “the highest category of harm”.

He said it was clear lessons had not been learned from reports by the Royal College of Obstetricians when Harry died, and that the family had to campaign to get answers.

Judge Barron said action was now being taken by the trust including recruiting seven consultants and more than a dozen senior midwives.

He set a starting point for his fine at £1.1 million, but reduced it by a third because of the trust’s early guilty plea, The Independent reported.

Philip Cave, director of finance and performance, read a statement to the court on behalf of the trust, which conceded that there had been a number of failures including “poor clinical leadership, poor governance, human error, clinical and healthcare errors, failures of supervision, system failures and failure to improve practice”.

In January 2020, The Independent revealed there had been dozens of baby deaths at the trust.

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.

Link to the full report in The Independent below.


The Independent story – Harry Richford: NHS trust fined £761k over avoidable death of baby in landmark prosecution (Open access)




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