Parents of stillborn baby receive record £2.8 million payout from hospital trust where they worked

Sarah and Jack Hawkins both worked at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust at the time of their baby’s stillbirth – Shawn Ryan / Nottinghamshire Live /Shawn Ryan / Nottinghamshire Live

The parents of a stillborn baby have received a record £2.8 million settlement from a hospital trust, at which they previously worked, after its failings caused their child’s death.

Harriet Hawkins was stillborn at Nottingham City Hospital in 2016 after a six-day labour.

An official external report later found 13 failures in Harriet and her mother's care and concluded her death was “almost certainly preventable”.

Her parents, Sarah and Jack Hawkins, both worked at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH) at the time of her death but neither have been able to return due to the “psychological and psychiatric impact” of the event.

A legal case against NUH has now been settled for £2.8 million, which solicitors acting on behalf of the couple have said is the largest payout for a stillbirth clinical negligence case.

A Root Cause Analysis Investigation Report found the trust failed to follow correct risk management policies, to consider the patients full clinical history, and that it delayed administering appropriate treatment.

It added there were “inadequate systems and processes which did not support the sharing of clinical information, records of phone calls and hospital admissions and an inability to access these records in all clinical areas”.

'Multiple missed opportunities' for intervention earlier in the labour

There were “multiple missed opportunities for intervention and appropriate monitoring earlier in the labour”, it added, and had one of these been taken it would have been likely Harriet’s death “would not have occured”.

Following the publication of the report in 2018, Mr Hawkins said he and his wife were “both unable to work because of the psychological and psychiatric impact Harriet’s death has had on us”.

The Trust apologised after the report and said it had already made “substantial changes”.

Mr and Mrs Hawkins were first told Harriet had died of an infection. It took nine hours for her to be delivered after dying.

Janet Baker, from Switalskis Solicitors, which represented Mr and Mrs Hawkins, told the BBC: “£2.8m is the highest damages award in a stillbirth case, with legal fees for both sides the total cost to the NHS is likely to be over £3.5m.

“I believe that this is a cost which was unnecessary and could have been avoided if NUH had acknowledged responsibility for Harriet's death straight away and had been open with Sarah and Jack.”

She added that the couple suffered “psychiatric injury” because of the “shocking and traumatic way” in which their child died.

“But this was made significantly worse by the protracted failure of NUH to acknowledge responsibility for Harriet’s death and the psychiatric injuries caused to Sarah and Jack,” she said.

The trust has been the centre of other maternity scandals, with a Channel 4 News investigation revealing earlier this year 46 babies had suffered brain damage and 19 were stillborn in Nottingham since 2010.

In December last year the Care Quality Commission rated maternity units at two of the trust’s main hospitals as inadequate, and highlighted “several serious concerns” around staffing, leadership and culture.

'Time after time families are contacting us'

Mrs Hawkins told the BBC: “I couldn't grieve when [the trust] chose to say Harriet's death was caused by an infection, rather than their own failures.

“We had to keep Harriet's body in the mortuary for two years so we could keep her as 'evidence'.

“Time after time families are contacting us, and every single time I get contacted my heart sinks.”

Mr Hawkins said the couple had to “fight to be heard”, but added many other families are yet to be listened to “because there has been no proper accountability for such a long time now”.

A spokesperson at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, said: “We would like to reiterate our sincere apologies to Mr and Mrs Hawkins for failures in the care around the delivery of baby Harriet.

“Our Maternity Improvement Programme has introduced a number of improvements including better training and monitoring with renewed focus on the recruitment and retention of midwives and maternity teams to ensure that we offer the best services possible to every family in our care.”

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