An NHS trust has been fined £733,000 for failing to provide safe care and treatment following the death of a baby boy.
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust admitted failures in the case of Harry Richford, who died seven days after his emergency delivery in November 2017.
The scandal-hit healthcare provider was sentenced in court on Friday over baby Harry’s death, a tragedy which was deemed “wholly avoidable” by a coroner.
His mother, Sarah Richford, said some of the care she and Harry received was “dire and inexcusable”, in a statement read out by the judge.
Care for mothers and newborn babies at the trust has been heavily criticised amid reports that at least seven preventable baby deaths may have occurred since 2016.
Harry’s parents, Tom and Sarah Richford, who spent years fighting for answers and better maternity safety, were at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court in Kent on Friday to see the trust sentenced.
The total fine of £1.1 million was reduced to £733,000 due to the trust’s guilty plea.
District judge Justin Barron said: “The trust fell far short of the appropriate standards of care and treatment in dealing with you.”
He said the failures led to “the greatest harm imaginable”.
He added that the trust is “very much under the spotlight” as a result of the failures and it is important that it takes action to restore confidence in its standard of care, something Mr Barron said it is doing.
In April, East Kent Hospitals admitted failing to provide safe care and treatment to Harry and his mother under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations.
The plea followed a prosecution by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
Philip Cave, finance director for the trust and a member of the board, acknowledged a series of failures at East Kent Hospitals and apologised to Mr and Mrs Richford.
He told the court: “I wish to emphasise that the trust does have insight into the failures that led to baby Harry’s death and the psychological injury caused to Mrs Richford.”
However, he denied suggestions that the trust had sought to cover up baby Harry’s death.
Mr Richford gave an emotional statement after the sentencing, with his wife by his side, saying: “Having our lives thrown into the public eye is not what anybody wants to do but sadly this was needed to shine a light on the failings which led to Harry’s death in 2017.
“Today the East Kent Hospitals Trust were fined for their failings.
“Although we are happy that a sanction has been delivered, we are unsure if the system currently in place is suitable for public-funded organisations such as the NHS.
“Taking money away from a financially challenged resource does seem counter-intuitive and we would encourage policymakers to consider any alternative options.”
Discussing the trust’s problems in his son’s care, Mr Richford added: “Had these failings been addressed promptly and effectively, we would not be here today. We are not here because of the failings from one evening.”
The family also vowed to support future investigations into maternity safety to ensure “long-lasting change” at local and national levels.
Speaking outside court, Niall Dickson, chairman of East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Harry’s parents expected that they would return home with a healthy baby and we failed them.
“I know that today we have more senior doctors, more stringent checks on those we employ, we have better training for our maternity staff and better monitoring of babies during labour.
“But there is more to do and we will continue to build on the steps that have been taken to improve the services we offer.
“A critical part of that must be making sure we respect and we listen to women and their families.
“And I want to pay tribute to Harry’s family for their tenacity in making sure that those lessons are learned.”
Nigel Acheson, CQC’s deputy chief inspector of hospitals, said: “No family should ever have to endure the pain and suffering that the Richford family have experienced.
“The trust’s acceptance of responsibility for the errors in Harry and Sarah’s care is welcome, but the fact remains that the series of events which led up to Harry’s death could and should have been avoided.”
Harry was born at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, Kent, before being transferred to the intensive neonatal unit at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, where he later died.
Speaking to the PA news agency earlier this year, Harry’s father said: “At every hurdle it did seem that the hospital were trying to avoid scrutiny, they didn’t want to lose out on their reputation.
“So we kept having to fight and fight and fight, and eventually we’ve now got the inquests and the inquiries and the investigations that really mean that change should hopefully be more systemic and sustainable.”
Mrs Richford said the guilty plea in court shows that the care she and Harry received was sub-standard, adding that the family now have “some sort of justice for what happened”.
She told PA: “We’ve got some level of justice that means that, although Harry’s life was short, hopefully it’s made a difference and that other babies won’t die.”