Baby died after mother was turned away from maternity unit, inquest hears

A baby died after his mother was rushed to hospital after she had been turned away from the maternity unit earlier in the day, an inquest has heard.

Rachel Higgs attended the Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital (QEQM) in Margate on September 1 2019, but was refused a bed because the maternity unit was full.

She was then seen at home by four midwives before she was admitted by ambulance to the QEQM when it was realised she was an emergency case.

Assistant coroner Sonia Hayes told the hearing in Maidstone that Archie Batten was born but died shortly afterwards and the cause of death was hypoxic brain injury caused by prolonged labour.

The QEQM is run by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, which is currently subject to an independent review carried out by Dr Bill Kirkup, who led the inquiry into serious maternity failings at Morecambe Bay.

It is investigating preventable and avoidable deaths of newborns, including Archie, to ensure the trust learns lessons from each case and is putting in place appropriate processes to safeguard families.

Ms Higgs is being represented by Fairweather Solicitors which is acting for 18 families who have suffered stillbirths, neonatal deaths or other injuries at the QEQM or other hospitals operated by the East Kent trust.

They also represented the family of Harry Richford, whose death in 2017 following his birth at the QEQM led to East Kent Hospitals being fined £733,000 for its failures.

Ms Higgs and her partner Andrew Batten attended the QEQM at 10.30am on September 1 2019, but she was unable to access the labour ward and was directed to the maternity day care centre where she was examined twice.

She was refused admission as she was not considered to be in labour despite being in pain and discomfort.

The hospital’s maternity unit then went into “red” because the “beds were full” and new cases were to be diverted to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, about 38 miles away.

The couple later contacted QECM and told them Ms Higgs could not make the journey to the William Harvey and were told that a community midwife would be sent to her home.

According to the family’s solicitors, Ms Higgs was attended by four midwives but it was not until later that it was realised her membranes were ruptured and there was also a failure to keep proper records of the foetal heart rate.

Shortly after 10pm it was recognised to be an emergency case and an ambulance was called.

Ms Higgs was taken to the QEQM where Archie was born in a poor condition and, although he managed to breathe independently for a short period, he died after 27 minutes.

Midwife Linda Harris told the inquest she became concerned for the health of Archie after she had attended the family home and no progress had been made with the delivery.

She said she and a colleague decided to call 999 for an ambulance when they realised there was a problem with the foetal heartbeat and declared the case an “obstetric emergency” which was “life-threatening to the baby”.

She said: “We felt an expedited delivery was needed.”

Ms Harris said she had not asked the two midwives present about the wellbeing of the baby when she arrived at the house because she felt Ms Higgs was being looked after by two “competent” midwives.

She said the seriousness of the situation became more apparent at the hospital and added: “I hadn’t realised Archie was in such a perilous position, I really felt he would be fine when we got him to hospital.”

She added that she would not have agreed with a plan put in place for Ms Higgs to “push” for another two hours before transfer to hospital which would be an hour’s journey.

She said: “That would be another three hours, that would be far too long given Rachel had had a midwife since 5pm that day. That would be unacceptable to wait that period of time.”

Ms Higgs said previously in a statement: “We put our total faith in the trust and the professionals looking after us. The number and range of mistakes that took place are difficult to comprehend.

“Like the other families affected by the blunders at the QEQM, our overriding ambition is that genuine, lasting and effective changes are made so that other families do not have to suffer in the same way in the future.”

Ms Hayes adjourned the hearing to give her conclusion on May 31.

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