The dominant UK story today of interest to me has concerned 'avoidable deaths' of babies at or soon after birth, under the care of doctors and midwifes based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. The BBC have given this issue a very high profile - a bit surprising to me because there was nothing I didn't know already. It's a very emotive issue. Every death of a baby at birth is a personal tragedy for the affected family. It must seem much worse if it's concluded that the death was 'avoidable'. I find it difficult to grasp just how sad and tragic losing a baby in such circumstances must be.
When first contacted by the media to comment on this story yesterday, I was very reluctant to become involved. Certainly did not wish to comment on any individual case. That would be for the family involved. Initially, the media was unsure what this story had to do with Wales. I had to explain that there are no consultant led maternity services in Montgomeryshire, and the majority of mums cross the border into Shropshire for hospital based births. Any births expected to carry extra 'risk' will take place at the new Women's and Children's Hospital at Telford. Today, I agreed to be interviewed by BBC Wales, by Newyddion and by Post Prynhawn on Radio Wales. I believe both TV channels also interviewed a Newtown family who lost a child.
Over the last 15 years, I've taken a very keen interest in the delivery of secondary care services in Shropshire. Montgomeryshire depends on them. The reason I was not surprised by today's news story was that I was involved in detailed discussions with the Chief Executive of the SaTH (Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust) last month. We all welcomed the decision taken in January by Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt to ask NHS England and NHS Improvement to investigate each case over recent years where the death of a baby was judged to be 'avoidable'. SaTH has also asked the Royal College of Obstreticians to review its entire maternity service, and return six months later to assess progress against any targets set. It's so important to SaTH that it's maternity services is top standard and known to be top standard.
A real worry to me arising out of today's publicity is the negative impact it may have on the thinking of consultants who might think about coming to work in Shropshire. There is already serious pressure on some services arising from an inability to attract consultants to Shropshire. Inevitably, insufficient consultant cover means clinically unsafe services and then the migration of services out of Shropshire altogether and further away from Mid Wales. That's why a proper response to the 'avoidable baby deaths' issue is so crucial. Over the last few months, I have developed a growing respect for the current SaTH management, and expect a response based on fulsome apologies to every family affected, an intense investigation into every case and total transparency. It's the only response that will be acceptable.