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NHS Funding Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:21 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover 7:21 pm, 27th January 2020

I congratulate Neale Hanvey on his maiden speech. I pay tribute to him for the passion he expressed for his community and to all those whose maiden speeches we have heard so far tonight.

I speak in this Second Reading debate on NHS funding to acknowledge that this Conservative Government are committed to delivering record funding for the NHS to secure world-class healthcare. However, healthcare is not just about how much money goes in—it is also about how it is spent. I welcome the Bill’s intention, which is to provide financial certainty to secure improvements on prevention and detection, as well as the treatment of patients. I believe that the focus on prevention should apply to every new baby life coming into our world. Even though a hospital may be state of the art, as my local Buckland Hospital in Dover is, if proper procedures are not followed, avoidable deaths and serious injury are the result. World-class healthcare is therefore also about leadership, standards and strong procedures. It is about culture—accepting responsibility when things go wrong, ensuring that there is accountability when life is unnecessarily lost, and showing compassion to those who have suffered when mistakes are made.

I would like to take a moment to share an avoidable and sad event with the House. An experienced mother attended Buckland Hospital in Dover last January after becoming concerned about changes in the movement of her baby at 36 weeks. The baby was well developed at over 7.5 lb. The mother was in a higher-risk category, having miscarried before, as well as having other gynaecological factors. At the hospital, she was put on the standard foetal baby monitoring under the supervision of a long-standing midwife. The midwife had a student with her that day.

The mother reports that during the monitoring process, the midwife left the mother and baby at times in the sole care of the student, that the student was having difficulties getting a reliable reading and that this was raised with the midwife on more than one occasion. The reading continued to be unreliable and incomplete. However, the midwife decided to stop the foetal monitoring and signed the monitoring sheet, noting that it was a defective and poor-quality reading, before discharging the mother and baby. Baby Tallulah-Rai Edwards died shortly thereafter, within 48 hours of being discharged from hospital. She died of hypoxia, which is suffocating to death in the womb because of a lack of oxygen.

Tallulah-Rai’s mum, Shelley, and her dad, Nicholas, have come to my surgery to ask me to raise with the Minister their serious concerns about the avoidable death of Tallulah-Rai. In doing so, I acknowledge the dignity and tenacity with which Tallulah-Rai’s family have looked for answers so that other families do not experience such a loss.

Tallulah-Rai’s parents maintain that she died as a result of inadequate foetal monitoring at Buckland Hospital, which is part of the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust. There can be no doubt that mum Shelley should not have been sent home on 23 January 2019 without the proper procedures being followed and completed. This was confirmed in writing by a very senior consultant at the trust.

This incident is all the more shocking because the unnecessary death of Tallulah-Rai was far from an isolated incident. Last Friday saw the conclusion of the coroners’ inquest on baby Harry Richford, a death in 2017 at another east Kent trust hospital. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Sir Roger Gale for his sympathy and support for baby Harry’s family, as well as their dignity in their distress and their desire to ensure that lessons are learnt from the unnecessary and tragic death of their baby son.

Inadequate foetal monitoring and wider problems in local maternity services have been highlighted in the inquest proceedings as well as in Care Quality Commission investigations in 2016 and 2018. Indeed, there was even a damning secret report commissioned by the trust as far back as 2015, which has only recently come to light. As one of the local Members of Parliament in east Kent, I cannot be fully assured that foetal monitoring in every case, and without exception, is being conducted to the right standards in our local hospitals, nor can Tallulah-Rai’s parents, Nicholas and Shelley. They know that nothing can bring their baby daughter back, but they want changes to the law and the administration of healthcare to ensure that no other parent suffers an unnecessary loss.

They want to see, first, immediate action taken at our local maternity services, so that there is no risk of another baby dying where inadequate foetal monitoring is an issue, or procedures are not followed, or there is unclear or inadequate advice to patients. This cannot wait for a lengthy public inquiry—it needs action now. Secondly, the culture of the trust should be made subject to a further and detailed review. Tallulah-Rai’s parents are still trying to get answers about their daughter’s death, yet in the latest draft report to them, more than a year on, the trust has not even bothered to get their baby’s name right. The trust needs to stop hiding behind paperwork and process; it should take responsibility right now so that Tallulah-Rai’s family can mourn and move on. Thirdly, they want the right to a coroner’s inquest to be extended to all baby deaths, whenever that death occurs, be it before or after the birth date. I know that the Government were bringing forward changes to this before the election and I ask the Minister for an update on how the measures are being progressed to ensure that there is a right to an inquest in these circumstances.

This important Bill provides record funding for the NHS, but money is not everything. Effective management and oversight, responsibility and accountability, and diligence, respect and compassion are all essential features of a world-leading healthcare service. I hope that the Minister will support me and my hon. Friends from across east Kent as we look for urgent and immediate improvements locally to give mums and dads-to-be the greatest possible confidence in our maternity services right here and now.