England’s care watchdog has carried out a no-notice inspection of an NHS trust at the centre of concerns over the possible preventable deaths of babies.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is investigating East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust but has not yet decided whether to prosecute.
At least seven preventable baby deaths may have occurred at the trust since 2016, a BBC investigation found.
The trust apologised and said it had made “significant changes”.
It comes as the trust is likely to be heavily criticised on Friday at an inquest into the death of baby Harry Richford.
East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust consists of five hospitals and community clinics and almost 7,000 babies are born there each year.
On Thursday, the BBC revealed significant concerns have been raised about maternity services at the trust, and a series of preventable baby deaths may have occurred there.
On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the trust’s maternity services were subject to an unannounced inspection from the CQC.
Ted Baker, chief inspector for hospitals at the commission said: “CQC’s 2016 inspection rated maternity services at East Kent NHS Foundation Trust as ‘requires improvement’, identifying that staffing levels were impacting on the quality of patient care.
“That rating remained unchanged at our 2018 inspection, during which it was noted that the department had changed its approach to foetal monitoring training after concerns were identified.
“The trust remains subject to close monitoring and further inspections. We conducted an unannounced inspection of the trust’s maternity services and we will publish the findings of this inspection as soon as we are able to.”
He said the CQC’s investigation was ongoing and no decision had yet been taken on whether to prosecute the trust for a failure to provide safe care or treatment, resulting in avoidable harm or a significant risk of avoidable harm.
East Kent’s maternity care is expected to be heavily criticised later on Friday as the inquest into the death of Harry Richford ends.
Harry was born in November 2017 at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (QEQM) Hospital in Margate, but died seven days later after complications with his delivery and aftercare.
Over the past three weeks, a number of witnesses have told the coroner there were a succession of failures in Harry’s care, for which the trust has already apologised.
On Thursday night, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust said in a statement: “We are truly sorry for the death of baby Harry and our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to Harry’s family.
“We accept that Harry’s care fell short of the standard that we expect to offer every mother giving birth in our hospital and we are fully cooperating with the CQC’s investigation into Harry Richford’s death.”
Trust paid £1.5m
Meanwhile, the BBC has discovered the trust was paid nearly £1.5m for providing good maternity care.
East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust had to certify it had met 10 safety standards to qualify for the £1,475,313 from the Maternity Incentive Scheme in 2018.
The scheme was launched by NHS Resolution, the legal arm of NHS trusts in England, to improve maternity care and reduce the cost of errors.
Trusts were required to assess whether they had met the maternity safety “actions”, including reducing error and acting on the concerns of patients.
The trust was able to qualify for a payment if its board certified all standards were met.
It was under the same scheme that another NHS trust – which was at the centre of England’s largest inquiry into baby deaths – was also paid nearly £1m.
In order to secure the money, spent on new equipment, the trust certified it was meeting all of the standards.
It was then eligible for monies including £500,000 paid in by other trusts which had not certified themselves as meeting every requirement.
Responding to the £1.5m it received, East Kent Hospitals said: “The trust’s board reviewed the evidence that these 10 actions had been completed in year one of the scheme, and were assured that they could demonstrate compliance.”
It added: “The trust will be carrying out a comprehensive and wide-ranging review of its maternity service and quality assurance to assure itself, the public and the wider health system and will make any changes that are required.”
The trust has said it made “significant changes” to its maternity service, but it recognised that the scale of change required has not taken place quickly enough.
The trust said it is recruiting more doctors and will be working with the NHS Maternity Support Programme.