Controversial NHS Trust baby deaths panel disbanded over conflicts of interest

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A review panel set up to look at the findings of an investigation into baby deaths at an NHS trust has been disbanded after concerns were raised over conflicts of interest.

Families expressed fury at the make-up of the panel, which had been asked to support a Government-ordered independent review into more than 200 cases of poor care or death at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust.

Included on the panel were staff from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), both of which had written reports on the trust.

The Royal College of Midwives was also involved. It is representing some of the midwives involved in the cases under investigation.

Allegations of a cover-up or conflict of interest have been rejected by those on the panel but NHS Improvement has taken the decision to disband it following the claims.

In a statement, Dr Kathy McLean, chief operating officer of NHS improvement said: “We are committed to ensuring Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust is able to learn as much as it can from the independent review into its handling of concerns about maternity and neonatal care.

“In response to feedback from families, NHS Improvement has decided to stand down the independent review panel.

“Although the intention had always been for the panel to provide additional scrutiny and support to the wide-ranging review being undertaken by (senior midwife) Donna Ockenden, it is clear that its role has prompted concerns, which we hope are now resolved.

“The review remains completely independent and NHS Improvement will ensure that families are given the answers they need and that lessons are learnt.”

On Friday, the Health Service Journal (HSJ) approached NHS Improvement and the CQC after learning that a CQC panel member, Nigel Acheson, had previously led an inspection of the trust in 2017.

A year later, the CQC went back to the trust and rated it inadequate with serious safety concerns in maternity.

In a statement, Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton, the parents of baby Kate, who died in 2009, told the HSJ: “Thanks again to the incredible strength of bereaved families, working in conjunction with respected media, the obstruction of the truth has been prevented.

“The removal of this so-called scrutiny panel is the right decision, the only decision.

“We can only hope the professionals with whom Donna Ockenden is conducting her review will not have been so grossly insulted by the creation of the panel that they choose to quit.”

In a statement, Professor Ted Baker, CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said the watchdog did not believe Dr Acheson was conflicted.

He said: “Nigel Acheson’s role as chair of CQC’s inspection of (the trust) in December 2016 was made known to NHS Improvement prior to accepting a place on the Ockendon review panel.

“To carry out their role, our staff must demonstrate high standards of professional conduct and impartiality at all times and we do not consider Nigel’s involvement in the review to be a conflict of interest.”

Prof Baker added the 2016 inspection team included 30 staff and while Dr Acheson chaired the inspection, the final report was written by inspection team leader Debbie Widdowson, who led the team on the ground.

Both the RCOG and RCM have rejected claims they were compromised by being members of the panel.

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