16th July 2020 – Our client, Rachel Higgs, and her partner, Andrew Batten, were dearly looking forward to becoming first time parents.
After an uncomplicated pregnancy, Rachel began to experienced contractions at full term on the morning of Sunday 01.09.19. On attending the QEQM Hospital in Margate, at 10.30 am, she was unable to access the Labour Ward but was directed to the Maternity Day Care Centre where she was examined twice over a 2 hour period but refused admission on the basis that she was not in active labour despite her pain, discomfort and being violently ill.
She felt extremely unhappy and anxious about this, wanting to stay in hospital, as she believed her labour was progressing. She and Andrew were assured, however, that a room would be kept available for her when she re – presented at any time.
In fact, before they left the hospital, at 2.35pm a decision was taken to close the QEQM Maternity Unit, leaving patients needing their services having to ‘divert’ to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, a difficult hour’s drive away from the QEQM. No – one told them this, neither then, nor by way of a telephone call when they got home. Instead, they were left to go home and, as advised, wait as long as possible before calling to come back in to the QEQM, less than a 5 minute drive from their home, where the bed would be waiting for them.
After a show and intense contractions, she phoned the QEQM shortly before 5pm only to then be told that the unit was “on divert” (shut) and that she should attend the William Harvey. This was not in any way a practicable option and when she tried to explain this she was simply advised to call William Harvey maternity triage herself. When Andrew stressed that they did not believe Rachel could make the journey to the William Harvey, and feared her having to give birth on the side of the road, they were ultimately told that a community midwife would be sent out to see her.
When that first midwife arrived shortly after 5pm she found Rachel was indeed fully (9cm) dilated with bulging membranes. She was told to start pushing and Andrew excitedly texted family members that baby would be arriving soon.
Subsequently, over the next 5 hours, Rachel was seen at home by a succession of 4 midwives in total none of whom appeared to appreciate that she had reached the second stage of labour and that labour needed to be progressed and baby delivered.
Her membranes were only ruptured at a very late stage and there was a failure to keep proper records of the foetal heart rate.
Eventually, one of the midwives finally recognised the emergency situation that was presenting and an ambulance was called at just gone 10pm which attended promptly and took Rachel into the QEQM.
Maternity services there had become operational again a couple of hours earlier but there had been absolutely no communication between the hospital and the midwives to facilitate Rachel being transferred at an earlier point.
By the time she got to the QEQM Archie was delivered but was born in a very poor condition.
He struggled but managed to breathe independently for a short period but this was not maintained. Resuscitation attempts were ended and he died at just 27 minutes of age.
By solicitors’’ letter dated 16.07.20 sent to Fairweathers the East Kent Trust has admitted sub – standard care and that, had delivery taken place earlier, as it should have done, Archie would have survived without any kind of injury.
Rachel commented as follows:-
“We put our total faith in the Trust and the professionals looking after us. The number and range of mistakes that took place are difficult to comprehend. I am pleased that the Trust has made this formal admission.
Beyond this, however, we are determined to get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong and why, through the ongoing Inquest process, the Kirkup review and otherwise. This is because, like the other families affected by the blunders at the QEQM, our overriding ambition is that genuine, lasting and effective changes are made so that other families do not have to suffer in the same way in the future.”
Nick Fairweather commented:-
“I pay tribute to Rachel and to Andrew for their dignity and resolve in dealing with the aftermath of losing Archie so tragically in circumstances that were wholly avoidable. It will be a lasting tribute to his memory if we can truly get to the bottom of why maternity services at this hospital were so substandard in most aspects of their operation over such a prolonged period. We hope that what went wrong can be the blueprint for putting things right.”
Sadly Rachel and Andrew are one of 12 families Fairweathers represent whose babies have either died or been caused serious lifelong injuries due to the failings of East Kent Trust’s maternity and neonatal services. We are referring cases, including Archie’s, for review by the Kirkup enquiry into maternity services at the East Kent Trust.