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Hospital fined £733,000 for baby's avoidable death in landmark prosecution case

View profile for Laura Sheehan
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Midwife struck off for looking up confidential medical records

You may have heard about the sad story of Harry Richford.  He was born on the 2nd November 2017 at Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate. There had been no problems during mum’s, Sarah’s pregnancy. She was low risk and everything should have gone fine with the delivery. Sadly Harry passed away just 7 days after his birth due to failings that occurred during Sarah’s labour, his own delivery and then resuscitation. Harry was born by caesarean section and delays in helping him breathe led to him suffering a severe lack of oxygen and consequently brain damage causing his sad passing.

In January 2020, an inquest heard there were gross failings surrounding the care and that Harry died due to “wholly avoidable” mistakes by staff at the hospital.  In October 2020, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent regulator of health and social care in England, announced it was bringing criminal proceedings against the trust responsible for the hospital for the unsafe care of Sarah and Harry. This is the first time in history that an NHS trust has been prosecuted in relation to unsafe treatment.

Events since Harry’s birth have been traumatising for the family and his parents should be applauded for their work and efforts since his sad passing. Whilst initially their intention was to find out what had happened to their son, as it became apparent he had died due to failings in the care he should have received, their attention turned to how those failings had occurred and fighting to ensure they didn’t happen to other families so they wouldn’t have to go through the same painful ordeal they have. This included the fight they had gone through to try to get the answers as to why their baby died as individual and systematic errors were pushed aside for years.  

Following a criminal hearing in April of this year, Judge Barron said it was clear that lessons had not been learned from the reports by the Royal College of Obstetricians when Harry died and that the family had to campaign to get answers. He had no problem finding the highest culpability and category of harm. The judge went on to say that action was now being taken by the trust to try to ensure events like this don’t occur again in the future. On Friday the judge imposed a fine of £733,000 plus payment of costs as the penalty for the trust’s negligent actions. The fine was reduced from starting point of £1.1million due to the trust’s guilty plea. 

Harry’s parents welcomed the sanction but understandably felt unsure whether the fine was suitable for a public funded organisation, describing it as counterintuitive.  They have encouraged policy holders to consider alternative options. The trust apologised for their failings and fully acknowledged the mistakes they had made. 

In January 2020 it was revealed that between 2014 and 2018 at the trust involved 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. 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.

If you or a family member have suffered medical negligence, then we may be able to help. Our leading team of experts are on hand to offer advice, so please get in touch with us on 0161 696 6165 or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you directly.