How many babies have to die before authorities admit that maternity services in South Wales are at breaking point?
That’s a question that many are asking after shocking revelations from the inquest into the death Jenson James Francis. He died 40 minutes after being born at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil last year.
The coroner this week heard that recordings of Jenson’s foetal heartbeat were “abnormal”. They indicated that Tiffany Gillard should have been offered a caesarean section delivery six hours before the baby was delivered.
But there were so few experienced staff available that the readings were wrongly interpreted. And senior doctors who were at home, but on-call, were never alerted to the danger.
The inquest heard how there was only one doctor running labour, antenatal, postnatal and gynaecology wards overnight. It found Jenson died of heart and lung failure due to “a failure to deliver him in good time”.
But Jenson’s death is far from the first to raise the alarm in South Wales.
Welsh Labour health minister Vaughan Gething was last month forced to put maternity services at the Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals into “special measures”.
He was prompted by concerns about the deaths of a number of babies—including eight stillbirths and five newborn deaths between January 2016 and last September. There were also 25 serious incidents in which mother and baby could have been harmed.
One report found, “Many women had felt something was wrong with their baby or tried to convey the level of pain they were experiencing.
“But they were ignored or patronised, and no action was taken, with tragic outcomes”.
A review by the Royal College of Midwives found there was often no consultant obstetrician on the labour ward. There were also not enough midwives, putting them under “extreme pressure”, and there were a large number of temporary staff.
It also found there was a “punitive culture” within the service, with senior management not listening to staff’s concerns. Midwives were afraid to speak out in case they were dismissed as being “unable to cope”.
Senior doctors investigating recent deaths at the hospital now demand that further cases should be looked at because of a pattern of underreporting incidents. There had been 67 stillbirths going back to 2010 which had not been reported for inclusion in statistics for a national database.
The credibility of the Cwn Taf health board overseeing the two hospitals is in tatters. Yet they expect to be charged with the responsibility of running these new investigations.
Gething refuses to take responsibility for the scandal, and has dismissed calls to resign. After years of underfunding, the health service is at breaking point and the staff are over-worked and utterly demoralised.
But there is nothing unique about the situation in South Wales. The tragedy being revealed there could feature in any hospital in Britain.