Cheshire police has launched an investigation into the deaths of eight babies during a 12-month period at the Countess of Chester Hospital.
The hospital conducted an independent clinical review into its neonatal services earlier this year , and approached the police after it revealed a greater number of baby deaths and collapses than 'normally expected' during the period of June 2015- June 2016.
As a result, police have launched an investigation which they say will have a 'significant impact' on all the involved families, staff, patients and the public.
It will focus on the deaths of eight babies that occurred between that one year period where medical practitioners have expressed concern, and there will also be a review into a further seven baby deaths and six non-fatal collapses during the same period.
Detective Chief Superintendent Nigel Wenham said: “In May 2017, The Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust contacted Cheshire Constabulary regarding neonatal services at the hospital. This was in relation to a greater number of baby deaths and collapses than normally expected during the period of June 2015 and June 2016.
“The hospital also made the constabulary aware of a number of independent reviews that they had commissioned into these deaths.
“As a result, Cheshire Constabulary has launched an investigation, which will focus on the deaths of eight babies that occurred between that period where medical practitioners have expressed concern.
“In addition the investigation will also conduct a review of a further seven baby deaths and six non-fatal collapses during the same period.
“We recognise that this investigation will have a significant impact on all of the families involved, staff and patients at the hospital and the public. Parents of the babies are being updated on the investigation and will be supported throughout the process by specially trained officers.
"We are committed to carrying out the investigation as quickly as possible. The investigation is in its very early stages. We are unable to provide any further details at this time.”
"Everything possible has been done to help determine the causes of death"
A statement from The Countess of Chester Hospital said: "The Trust and its doctors have continuing concerns about the unexplained deaths and are very keen to understand that everything possible has been done to help determine the causes of death in our neonatal unit between June 2015 and June 2016.
"As a hospital we have taken the clinical review as far as we can. We have now asked for the input of Cheshire police to seek assurances that enable us to rule out unnatural causes of death."
The findings from the review, carried out by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health earlier this year, revealed 24 recommendations for improvement, all of which the hospital say are now underway.
Countess of Chester Hospital medical director Ian Harvey said approaching the police was not a decision they had undertaken lightly.
“We are deeply sorry for the further distress and heartache this will cause," he said. "Throughout this we have never lost sight of the families left bereaved by the loss of their baby, and they will continue to be our main concern.
"At every point where the hospital has been able to share information with families and the public, we have done so. Approaching the police is not something we have undertaken lightly.
"This is to ensure we have been completely thorough in understanding what has happened here and to get the answers we and the families so desperately want.”
He said specially trained officers from Cheshire police have been in contact with those families directly affected, and the hospital would continue to provide support 'where it is appropriate'.
"Our focus at this time is on supporting our staff, and those patients receiving care at the hospital," he added.
Cheshire politicians react to the news
Several local politicians have been commenting on today's revelations, including Chester's Labour candidate Chris Matheson, who said the news was 'deeply concerning.'
"This is a deeply concerning time for us all and my thoughts are firstly with the parents of those affected," he said in a statement.
"It is clearly a very serious issue and I support the hospital in asking the police to be involved with the review. It is vital that we get to the bottom of this quickly so that the people involved get the answers they urgently need.”
Meanwhile, Eddisbury candidate Antoinette Sandbach who became an avid campaigner for better bereavement care in hospitals after losing her five-day old son at home in 2009, said she 'welcomed the investigation'.
"Clearly it is vital that the hospital and the police investigates the cause of those deaths as quickly as possible," she said.
Justin Madders, candidate for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said it is 'too early' to speculate on what took place at the Countess during 2015 and 2016 but he welcomed the fact that the hospital are working with the police as part of the investigation.
“It is very important that at the conclusion of the process, there is a clear and transparent series of recommendations to ensure that patients and the public can have confidence that these tragic events will not reoccur," he added.