Doctors who saw but did not report babies and mothers receiving poor care during the NHS’s worst maternity scandal could be suspended or struck off, the General Medical Council has warned.
The medical profession’s regulator has asked NHS bosses for details of any doctor they believe may have ignored their professional duty to raise the alarm about threats to patient safety at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS hospital trust (SaTH).
The GMC has raised the spectre of doctors being disciplined after it emerged on Monday that a government-ordered independent investigation found that at least 42 babies and three mothers died at the trust in cases linked to poor care between 1979 and 2017.
An inquiry by maternity expert Donna Ockenden uncovered an array of failings that had damaging and in some cases tragic consequences for women giving birth at the trust and their babies, which included staff not realising a woman was in labour, not monitoring a baby’s heartbeat properly and failing to give bereaved parents full information about what had happened.
Anthony Omo, the GMC’s general counsel and director of fitness to practice, said: “The reports in the media and press this week are shocking and our thoughts are with the families affected.
“We are in contact with the trust and have asked NHS England and NHS Improvement for details of any concerns about individual doctors. Where we receive details of any such concerns we will take appropriate action to protect patients and public confidence in doctors.”
In a reminder to medics about disclosing concerns they have about about poor care or harm to patients, Omo added: “All doctors have a responsibility to take action if they are aware that patient safety may be at risk.”
Meanwhile, the body representing Britain’s 8,000 doctors specialising in childbirth has hit out at the trust for delaying publication of its inquiry into maternity care.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has criticised SaTH for taking seven months to put into the public domain the report it had asked the college to draw up.
It held off sharing the RCOG’s findings despite longstanding public concern about babies having died or suffering terrible injuries, including brain damage.
In a statement the college said: “The RCOG regrets that the trust did not accept its initial report and waited six months to publish it alongside the addendum.”
The RCOG passed its report into the trust’s maternity and neonatal unit to SaTH in December 2017, five months after being asked to produce it. However, SaTH did not publish it until July 2018, after receiving a second report the trust had also requested from the college, which detailed the progress it had made towards implementing the 37 recommendations RCOG experts had included in their original findings.
The college believes the trust should have published the report soon after receiving it and the seven-month delay shows it was not transparent about events at its hospitals in Shrewsbury and Telford.
The statement follows Ockenden’s investigation finding that the college’s original report was inadequate.
The RCOG has responded to that by pledging to share all future “invited reviews” it undertakes at the request of an NHS trust with the Care Quality Commission, which regulates healthcare in England. Such reviews are usually only given to the trust which commissioned it.
However, sources at the trust dismissed the RCOG’s criticism as “a shift in their position” and maintained that the college went along with its decision at the time not to publish immediately.
In a separate development, the Royal College of Midwives responded on Tuesday to the leaked findings of Ockenden’s inquiry but did not comment on the countless failings by maternity staff, including midwives, that were identified.
Its statement said: “The RCM is committed to improving safety within our maternity services and when the full review’s findings are published there will be important lessons to be learned by the NHS and by maternity services across the UK.”
It will respond to the failings in clinical care when Ockenden’s final report is published, which is expected to be next year.
Clea Harmer, the chief executive of Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, said Ockenden’s findings were “truly shocking”.
“As a charity founded by and for bereaved parents it is very sad to hear that bereaved families were treated with ‘a distinct lack of kindness and respect’ by healthcare professionals”.