Family tell of heartbreak after baby girl dies following failings at South Tyneside's birthing centre
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David and Emma Warkcup were overjoyed at the prospect of becoming first time parents and welcoming their already much-loved daughter into the world.
But what should have been a cause for celebration for the couple, from South Shields, as the 32-year-old went into labour, instead turned into the most heart-breaking moment of their lives.
Moments after their daughter Charlotte, who they affectionately called Lottie, was born at Sunderland Royal Hospital where mum and baby had been rushed to by ambulance from the midwife-led birthing centre in South Shields, the couple were forced to watch on helplessly as medics spent an agonising 22 minutes resuscitating their baby girl.
Eventually, Lottie was placed on a life support machine as her devastated parents willed her on to survive.
Mrs Warkcup, a teacher and artist, said: “She just looked like a doll. She was perfect. I'd never felt a love like it, it was indescribable.
"I kept saying to her Lottie be brave and be strong, and that Bonnie (our dog) couldn't wait to see her.”
But, just 60 hours and 10 minutes after the couple had welcomed their daughter into the world, they were left no option but to turn off the life support machine that had been keeping her alive.
Cradled in her dad's arms and with her mam by his side holding her hand, their baby girl took her last breath at 4.15pm on December 23 at Sunderland Royal Hospital, surrounded by both sets of grandparents.
Mr Warkcup, a hydraulic technician, said: “I thought I was quite a strong person but having to hold my daughter while she died – no one should have to go through that.
“I live everyday with the guilt of not speaking up when I thought something was wrong that night.
“I just kept thinking this baby is taking too long to be born, but we were being told the birth was progressing and that the midwife could see our baby and that she had lovely black hair, so I never said anything, but deep down I felt something was wrong, but we just done what they told us to do.”
She added: “If I had opened my mouth, our daughter might be here and I have to live with that guilt every day.”
An inquest into the death of their baby girl, held at Sunderland City Hall, heard how there were a number of failures in the lead up to Lottie's birth.
The factors were described during the inquest by Sunderland Royal Hospital's Dr Sarah Gattis, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, as “more likely than not” to have contributed to the “catastrophic” outcome for Lottie and her family.
The couple welcomed the coroner's conclusion, saying they have worked tirelessly for nine months for “justice” for their baby girl.
Mrs Warkcup said: “Our whole family are so pleased justice has been found for our little Lottie. She should be in our arms now. This should never have happened to our beautiful baby girl, but hopefully the legacy Lottie leaves, will ensure this will never ever happen again to another family.
“We know the trust have made changes, but these changes should never have had to happen, as they should have been in place right from the start.”
The birthing centre has been closed since the beginning of 2022, which health chiefs said was due to the continued impact of Covid-19 and ‘significant staffing challenges’. It is set to reopen on November 1.
During the inquest, Mr Warkcup told the coroner he felt the centre should never be re-opened, a sentiment he still maintains.
He said: “I strongly believe the birthing centre should be closed.
“The whole point of a risk assessment is to remove risk, if you've got the option to remove it from the equation then it should be done first without trying to manage it.
"Dr Gattis said they need provide three options to patients, the midwife-led birthing unit, home births and births by qualified doctors – that's fair enough, if that's what needs to be done.
"But why isn't the centre at Sunderland hospital where you have doctors on hand. Why have they got it 30-60 minutes away from doctors that can help you straight away. It just doesn't make sense.”
The couple said the pain of their daughter's death was compounded even further when only weeks before the inquest was to take place, hospital bosses announced the birthing centre would re-open following its closure on January 5.
Mrs Warkcup said: “When I saw the article in the paper about the birthing centre re-opening, it was heart-breaking. Here we were preparing for our daughter's inquest and there they were celebrating the up-coming re-opening of the unit when our baby is not here.”
Mr Warkcup added: “When Emma told me about the centre re-opening, it just feels like they just brushed Lottie's death under the carpet.”
He added he has contacted South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck about the couple’s concerns and was waiting to hear back.
Mrs Warkcup had been considered a low-risk birth and after the couple changed their minds on a number of occasions as to where their first child would be born, they eventually settled on the midwife-led birthing centre at South Tyneside District Hospital.
However, the care they received at the birthing centre and prior to labour, the inquest heard, fell far short of what was expected.
Mrs Warkcup said she was not told her baby was in a back-to-back position which would have prompted her to request a transfer to Sunderland Royal Hospital, due to her own mum and friends having complications with back to back labour.
Mrs Warkcup said: “If I had known, I would have asked to be transferred to Sunderland Hospital straight away as I know how complicated back-to-back births can be.”
Lottie's death sparked a major incident investigation by the Trust, with a further investigation carried out by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) who also found failings in the care Mrs Warkcup and Lottie received.
Mrs Warkcup said: “We will never get over this. We will carry this pain and heartache with us forever. How can you ever get over the loss of your baby.
"You want to have some acceptance and closure but there is nothing.
"She was a healthy baby girl, she should not have died.
“Up until that day I had never seen my husband cry. Lottie was our first child and we did everything by the book, everything, but we were let down by those we trusted to look after us.”
Speaking after the inquest, the Trust issued a statement attributed to
Melanie Johnson, Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, which read: “On behalf of the Trust, I want to say sorry to Lottie’s family for our failures in care to their little girl.
"There is nothing we can say that will ever ease the pain of losing their baby and no words to adequately express the sorrow we feel in the loss of young Lottie so early in her life.
"There were things that we got wrong and we fully accept the independent findings of the investigation by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) and the Coroner’s report.
"The loss of Lottie will always lay heavy in our hearts and I want to reassure her family of the steps we have taken to correct the things which went so tragically wrong and the huge amount of learning that has come from this case.”