Channel 4 investigation finds failures in conduct of HSIB relating to maternity care

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Following an investigation spearheaded by Mum of Beatrice, Emily Barley and Channel 4 today, light is shone on serious concerns families and whistle-blowers alike have regarding the conduct of the Health and Safety Investigations Branch (HSIB). An arm of this investigates certain aspects of maternity care.

It has become apparent over recent years that the ideology of the then Secretary of State for Health and Welfare, Jeremy Hunt MP, in setting up this arm has been lost. Families are given a choice in certain circumstances to have an investigation into their care by the Trust who provided the care or HSIB.

Initially, this was heralded as a new beginning. A fresh and independent start where information could be gathered and real changes could be made. Somewhere along the line, this has been lost and replaced with feelings of bias, inappropriate relationship building, a lack of trust, watered-down conclusions and safety recommendations, and skewed data that doesn’t necessarily show material improvements in maternity care.

Concerns from families have been reinforced by those who have worked for and within HSIB and confirm that there has been a move not to be overly critical and to push reports through within time frames, regardless of whether that impacts the outcomes of the reports. There are many real concerns included in the report on Channel 4, including families feeling bullied, not listened to and that their very real safety concerns fell flat.

A combination of poor and ineffective governance, recruitment and the inability to enact real change means that the concerns are brought to the forefront in this brave piece. Whilst HSIB may refute some of the claims made, the volume of families that came forward to share their concerns spans much further than those included in the Channel 4 news investigation.

Natalie Cosgrove, Medical Negligence specialist at Ashtons Legal, says: “For some time, I have had concerns about the conduct and the outcomes of HSIB. I am deeply concerned that relationships are built between investigators in the early stages of their trauma, only for families to feel let down and disregarded by the point the reports are released. Patient safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds and not just families who are often asked to give their accounts within days of trauma, including when their baby has died.

“As I have stated, there has been a real shift change in the quality of the reports over the last four or five years, and now we can see why. Families continue to be let down by systems that are set up to support them when they are in the darkest and most vulnerable times of their lives.

“It is apparent that HSIB not only has no real power to enact change, but now it could be that their reports don’t reflect events and recommendations to provide safe care in the future. That is a real worry that must be addressed before HSIB moves to its new incarnation later this year.

“If not, I am concerned about the emphasis that many external parties place on such reports that don’t often reflect what happened or what conclusions should have been drawn. To think that this is purposeful to reflect a political agenda is deeply worrying. This affects families and staff alike, who are equally desperate to see change.

“Coroners especially place enormous reliance on the conclusions of such reports, which is something that families and their representatives struggle to go behind. Families are being seriously let down by the prospect of something that was set up to help them.

“It cannot be that at our most vulnerable, we as a society couldn’t feel more alone. It is not for Emily or other families I represent to do this, but I am in awe of those that you see in the piece and those who you don’t, who have bravely shared their stories to piece together the truth. We can only hope that this serves to make real change and that families are respected, listened to, and maternity care is made safer.”

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