Cheshire police has revealed it has launched an investigation into a higher than usual rate of baby deaths at the Countess of Chester Hospital.
The probe is in its very early stages, but will focus on the deaths of eight babies that occurred between that period where medical practitioners have expressed concern, the force says.
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Keep an eye on the Chronicle website for the latest surrounding this morning’s events.
All we know so far can be found in our article here.
Council pledge support to probe
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s assistant chief executive Delyth Curtis said: “We will be working with Countess of Chester Hospital and partners throughout the investigation, providing full support as required.
“Whilst there is an investigation ongoing we will not make any further comment.”
Footage from the Countess after the news broke this morning
What we know so far
Our reporter Carmella De Lucia has written a piece on what we know so far about the investigation.
'Best possible job with resources they have'
Other media are descending on the Countess now
Mum-to-be hails care at the hospital
Our reporter Mike Fuller has spoken to a mum who had her twins at the Countess and is due to have her next baby there too.
She told him the care has ‘always been brilliant’.
More reaction from parliamentary candidates
Antoinette Sandbach, Tory candidate for Eddisbury, has also issued a statement on Twitter
Call for probe to be dealt with 'quickly and properly'
Former Cheshire West and Chester Council leader Mike Jones has tweeted:
'Extremely serious issue', says Justin Madders
Labour candidate for Ellesmere Port and Neston Justin Madders says the investigation is ‘clearly deeply concerning’ and his thoughts are with the families involved.
In a statement, he said: “This investigation is clearly deeply concerning and all of our thoughts should first and foremost be with all of the families involved.
I can only imagine what a harrowing time this has been and continues to be for those families.
“The most important thing now is to ensure that the investigation gets to the bottom of what happened as quickly as possible.
“It is too early to speculate on what took place at the Countess during 2015 and 2016, but clearly this is an extremely serious issue and I welcome the fact that the Hospital are working with the Police as part of this 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.”
Our reporter Mike Fuller is now down at the Countess of Chester Hospital
Families 'always our primary concern'
Chief executive Tony Chambers told The Chronicle back in February: “Throughout this we have never lost sight of the families bereaved by the loss of their baby, and they have always been our primary concern.
“It must have been devastating for them to lose their baby, and then face a period of not knowing.”
Chronicle's coverage back in February
Our chief reporter David Holmes wrote a story back in February about an independent review the Countess ordered into greater number of deaths than it would normally expect.
Chester Labour candidate Chris Matheson: 'Deeply concerning'
A message on behalf of Chris Matheson, Labour candidate in City of Chester.
“This is a deeply concerning time for us all and my thoughts are firstly with the parents of those affected. 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.”
Specialist support for families involved
Medical director Ian Harvey has added that 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.
'Not a decision taken lightly'
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.”
What the Countess of Chester Hospital has to say
The Countess has now released a statement into the probe.
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.”
Cheshire Constabulary's statement in full
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.”