AN INQUIRY into baby deaths at East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust has been broadened into an investigation of hundreds of deaths nationally, Tory junior health minister Nadine Dorries has announced.
Since 2010, Tory cuts have shut maternity services down at hospital after hospital around the length and breadth of the country, putting remaining services under extreme pressure, with a severe lack of staff overwhelmed by increasing numbers of expecting mums.
The ‘independent review’ will look at ‘preventable and avoidable deaths of newborns’. It will be led by Dr Bill Kirkup – who chaired the inquiry into Morecambe Bay’s maternity services.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, former Tory Secretary of State for Health and now chair of the government’s Health and Social Care Committee, Jeremy Hunt, said in relation to the Shropshire and Telford Hospitals baby death scandal: ‘Chillingly, it now looks like close to a thousand families have come forward with cases of potentially avoidable baby deaths, brain damage and harm in that maternity unit over a 40-year period.’
It is not individual members of NHS staff who are to blame, but a lack of staff in general.
However, it was Hunt, while he was Tory Health Secretary, who launched war against the NHS, axeing maternity departments and A&Es.
Maternity negligence claims have more than doubled from £482m in 2012 to £1.2bn in 2019. Hunt was Secretary of State for Health from 2012 to 2018.
In Enfield, north east London, Chase Farm Hospital maternity services were shut in November 2013. In west London, Ealing Hospital maternity services were shut on July 1 2015.
Maternity at Dewsbury and Huddersfield was downgraded in September 2016. In South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, services were ‘reshaped’ in 2017 due to lack of specialist staff. Lincolnshire maternity services were centralised at Lincoln and remain in ‘special measures’.
In Dorset, the specialised premature babies (born at 27-32 weeks) unit had its facilities shut down at Dorset County Hospital in October 2014. These are just a few of the examples of closures which have had a direct effect on the ability of midwives and nurses to save lives. Since the Tories axed the nurses’ and midwives’ bursaries, student numbers have plummeted. The UK is at least 4,000 midwives short!
Meanwhile, A&Es are also being shut down hand over fist. In London alone, the A&E at Enfield’s Chase Farm was shut on December 9, 2013. In September 2014 in west London, both Hammersmith and Central Middlesex A&Es were shut.
The closure of A&Es has put unprecedented pressure on doctors and nurses. New NHS performance stats released on Thursday showed nearly 200,000 people waiting over four hours on a trolley so far this winter – 56,000 more than at the same time last year – and almost six times more people waiting over 12 hours on trolleys this winter compared to last.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Stories of patient deaths on corridors, crammed emergency departments and cancellations of patients’ procedures as a daily occurrence are becoming the new norm as doctors across the country say they are exhausted and run into the ground. This is failing patients and is not sustainable.’
Damning statements are not enough. Doctors, nurses and all NHS unions must unite to call a nationwide strike as they did in the north of Ireland recently.
Plans to close Ealing and Charing Cross A&Es were scrapped in March after a mass campaign by the West London Council of Action secured a hard-fought victory.
This is the way forward, for councils of action to be built to occupy any hospital department threatened with closure and keep it open, for all the health unions to call strike action to defend the NHS, and for all unions to support such a strike with a general strike.
This Tory government has blood on its hands. Tory cuts are killing people: babies that die as a direct result of cuts and closures of maternity departments; victims of heart attacks, strokes and serious traffic accidents that die in the ambulance because their local A&E has been shut. This government must be kicked out now before more patients die!