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Medical negligence

Bereaved families call for public inquiry into scandal-hit Sussex maternity services

The families of nine babies who died within a three year period through failings at a scandal-hit NHS Trust have come together to call for a public inquiry into the standard of its maternity care.


04 June 2024

The nine families have collectively written to their MPs to call for action against the University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, after all lost babies at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, Worthing Hospital and Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.

Of the nine bereaved mothers, four almost died between 2021 and 2023, again as a result of poor standards of care from the maternity teams.

Now, the families have called for a public inquiry into the Trust’s maternity services to ensure accountability for its “systemic failures” and so they learn from past mistakes.

“With the volume and repetition of errors in maternity care by the Trust, we believe that babies and potentially mothers will continue to unnecessarily die under the Trust’s care unless there is additional intervention,” the nine families, all of whom live within the Sussex area, write in their letter.

The nine baby deaths include Abigail Fowler Miller, whose inquest concluded at the end of last year that her life would have been “significantly prolonged” if not for errors in care, Orlando Davis, whose death was “contributed to by neglect” and Esme Vowels Lovett, who died after “staff missed opportunities to save her”.

Each family speaks of mothers not being listened to and a reluctance from maternity teams to act urgently, a failure to take reported symptoms seriously, a difficult complaints process, and paint a picture of recurrent failures which are not being learned from.

Prior to the General Election being called, the families were in contact with their local MPs – including Andrew Griffith, Peter Kyle, Tim Loughton and Caroline Lucas – for support in securing an independent review from Health Secretary Victoria Atkins, who so far has resisted growing calls for a national inquiry into maternity standards, following serial failings at NHS Trusts including Morecambe Bay, Shrewsbury and Telford, and East Kent.

In the most recent CQC report, the Royal Sussex had its maternity services graded ‘inadequate’, following longstanding concerns around safety, with Worthing and the Princess Royal rated as ‘requires improvement’. Red flags were raised over leadership and a ‘culture of fear’ at the Trust by both CQC and the Royal College of Surgeons in separate damning reports.

The families have spoken of being compelled to call for action after the “immeasurable losses” of their children have left them with “unanswered questions, no guarantee that these mistakes won’t be repeated, and the lifelong trauma and grief caused by the death of a baby”.

"All our babies were otherwise healthy and would have grown up if not for the failings in care and the dismissal of our concerns,” say the families.

“Our children lost an entire life: they never got a chance to grow up, to learn to walk and speak, to make friends, to witness the awe and beauty of our planet.

“Though our babies left their mark on this world in many meaningful ways, they had so much more to give and experience. This is a loss to us as parents, to our families and to society as a whole."

Nisha Sharma, a clinical negligence lawyer at Slater and Gordon who is handling a number of claims against University Hospitals Sussex, said: “Individually, the deaths of each of these babies is a tragedy. Taken together, this is a shocking and appalling situation which we cannot allow to happen to even one more family.

“We know of the urgent need to raise standards in this Trust, which is rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ in its maternity services, and calls have already been made many times for this to happen. But the voices of nine bereaved families must be heard.

“We can have no excuse not to listen now and to try and treat these dreadful cases as individual failings. This is a systemic failing within this Trust and they must act now, without delay, to save more families from this heartbreak and trauma.

“I wholeheartedly support the calls for a public inquiry and hope the local MPs will also be adding their voices to this campaign. These parents have been through enough – those in a position of influence must now use it to make sure these repeated failings end here.”

• Any other families who have suffered the loss of a child through poor maternity care at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Trust and would like to get in touch with the group can do so at truthforourbabies.org.uk.

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