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Gloucestershire maternity concerns are another distressing chapter in the standard of care mums and babies receive, says medical negligence lawyer

Tonight, BBC Panorama will air its findings into maternity services at the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust. The programme is following serious concerns being raised about maternity care, leading to potentially avoidable mother and baby deaths.

This investigation is yet another distressing chapter in the recent history of revelations into the dire reality of maternity services across the UK. In late 2022, I recall the alarming data from the Care Quality Commission when it was found that nearly half of England's maternity units required improvement. 

Maternity service investigations across the country

Over the last six years or so, investigations have been launched into maternity services at severable notable trusts, including in Nottingham, Sheffield, East Kent, Swansea, and Shrewsbury and Telford. Several years ago, I remember, quite vividly, speaking with families affected by the Shropshire maternity scandal and taking back-to-back enquiries from distressed parents once news of the findings broke.

What happened in Gloucester?

And now one of the maternity units closest to me, in Gloucester, is in the spotlight. 

The BBC today states that 10% of maternity units in England are now rated inadequate for safety by the Care Quality Commission, including at the Gloucestershire Trust. The BBC states that the Trust failed to take action against two staff and that seven women under the Trust’s care died between 2018 and 2022. 

BBC Panorama has calculated that this is twice the national average, a claim which is disputed by the Trust.

Panorama’s episode will focus on the tragic deaths of two babies and a mother between 2019 and 2021. Independent investigations into the baby deaths were carried out by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB). 

In the earlier case, the mother was not transferred to the obstetrics unit at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital quickly enough, which could have changed the outcome for her baby. It appears that tragically, history was allowed to repeat itself 11 months later.

Low maternity staffing levels highlighted as a factor

Dangerous staffing levels and issues with the trust’s culture have been cited as problems. The BBC refers to midwifery staff being discouraged from reporting concerns and being treated as “troublemakers”.

It' no surprise that staffing levels can lead to delays and further issues with care. It's not an issue unique to Gloucester, and is a nationwide concern. Last year, The Royal College of Midwives calculated that NHS England was short of 2,500 midwives.

Gloucestershire Trust apologises to families  

The Gloucestershire Trust has said it's sorry and determined to learn when things go wrong. It advises that significant improvements to maternity services have been made in the past three years, to include a new and expanded maternity leadership team and an increase in the number of staff to support women and babies.

Supporting families affected by maternity care failings

Despite improvements being made, we cannot grow complacent, and must continue to raise awareness of issues with maternity safety, and to encourage anyone affected to speak out. 

Irwin Mitchell represents hundreds of families throughout the country who have been impacted by maternity care issues. The firm continues to campaign for improvements in maternity safety and has previously contributed to the Health Committee's Maternity Safety Call for Evidence

Through my work I sadly too often see the devastating impact of failings in maternity care. The latest Panorama investigation now hits closer to home, as I'm sure it will for others living close to the hospitals in Gloucestershire.

It's incredibly hard for families to learn that issues in care could have been prevented. All they want is for the most thorough investigations to be held so they can be provided with all of the answers they deserve. 

Litigation can help find the answers to this and can assist with highlighting key areas of change for maternity units. What I hear time and time again from those families so tragically impacted is that they just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. 

It can also be hard for families to access specialist support after experiencing a traumatic event such as the avoidable loss of their child or where their child has suffered a significant injury. 

Litigation is just one part of the that support and an important part of my role as a solicitor is signposting families for additional support and guidance. Irwin Mitchell also has specialist rehabilitation and support co-ordinators who offer support to families and enable them to access the support needed.  

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting families affected by maternity care issues at our dedicated birth injuries section.