Government has ‘not gone far enough’ in its response to maternity scandal

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The Government’s initial response to a damning report into a baby death scandal has “not gone far enough”, the chairman of the maternity care investigation has said.

Dr Bill Kirkup’s inquiry found up to 45 babies could have lived if they had been given better care by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust.

Both infants and mothers died while others were left badly hurt as a result of catastrophic failings, the 2022 report concluded.

The Government has published its initial response to the inquiry in the form of a written ministerial statement in the House of Commons.

But the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) described the statement as “lacklustre” and Dr Kirkup said the response “does not go far enough”.

Dr Kirkup, chairman of the independent inquiry into the trust, told the BBC: “I’m very disappointed that it’s taken this long and that all we have is an initial response and that it does not go nearly far enough, in my view, to address the depth and complexity of the issues that we’ve identified.”

He added in a statement: “If maternity services are to improve, the changes needed to be wider and deeper. Our report, Reading The Signals, identified fundamental issues applying across the country, not simply in East Kent.

“I gave a commitment to families that I would not go away and would press for those fundamental issues to be grasped.

“On today’s evidence there is no basis for me going away.”

Meanwhile, Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said: “If anyone wanted evidence of how little this Government cares about maternity services, they simply need to read their response to the Kirkup report – fewer than 500 words and nearly six months after the report’s publication.

“Contrast this with the response to the equally-important Ockenden Review, which was made by the Secretary of State to the House of Commons on the day of publication.

“This lacklustre response does little to address the report’s calls for greater investment in maternity services or the recommendations around training and support for staff.”

Charities Sands and Tommy’s said “much greater detail” is needed on the steps the Government is taking.

In her statement, Ms Caulfield said: “I would like to place on the record my gratitude to the families who came forward to contribute to this review, and to express my deepest sympathies for the loss and harm that Dr Kirkup discovered in the maternity and neonatal services at East Kent. I am also grateful for Dr Kirkup and his review team for his report.”

She said the Government has work “underway to establish a task force” on maternity outcomes, while those responsible for staff education will be “commissioned to report on how compassionate care can best be embedded into practice and sustained through lifelong learning”.

Ms Caulfield said “relevant” organisations will examine and report on how “teamworking in maternity and neonatal care can be improved” and how “oversight and direction of clinicians can be improved”.

She also said the Government will continue to work with NHS England on its approach to “poorly performing trusts and their leadership”, while ministers will consider “duties placed on public bodies to share information with families” in parallel with other inquiries.

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