The family of a new mother who died of herpes after potentially being infected by the surgeon who performed her caesarean have accused an NHS trust of causing them more “pain and grief” by delaying the inquest into her death.
Kimberley Sampson, 29, died in May 2018 after giving birth at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital (QEQM), which is run by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust (EKHUT).
Her death is being investigated alongside the case of Samantha Mulcahy, who died six weeks later after the same surgeon conducted a caesarean to deliver her baby at the William Harvey Hospital, also run by EKHUT.
Their families have been waiting almost five years for answers, and the inquest had been due to begin on Monday until it was delayed by a last-minute request by the trust for reporting restrictions.
EKHUT has applied for a court order prohibiting the naming of the surgeon and a midwife involved in both cases until the inquest has concluded – a move which has been opposed by the press and the families’ lawyers.
On Tuesday, which would have been the second day of the inquest, Coroner Catherine Wood said she was “terribly sorry” to families as she delayed the hearing until April to consider the applications from both sides.
As lawyers representing the families argued against the application at a pre-inquest hearing on Wednesday, several relatives held their heads in their hands and one burst into tears.
Following the hearing, Ms Sampson’s mother, Yvette Sampson, said the trust has been “more focused on protecting itself” than on getting answers for the families.
She said in a statement: “For years it’s felt a fight just to get to the stage of at least having an inquest into Kim’s death.
“While the feeling of hurt and loss at Kim’s death has never gone away, those feelings have really come to the fore again over the last few weeks as we thought that the time was coming for us to finally get answers.
“It’s difficult to find the words to describe what’s happened over the last few days.
“The most important thing should have been to establish how two young mums died and how their children have been left without their mummies.
“However, instead it feels like the trust has been more focused on protecting itself.
“The hardest thing to accept is that these legal arguments should have been concluded way in advance of this week but instead the trust submitted a request on the eve of the hearing and on a non-working day.
“These actions have just added to the pain and grief we feel.
“While we now have to wait for the inquest, I’ll continue to fight to ensure I can at least get the answers I deserve as to why Kim died and also so that I can explain to her children when they’re older what happened to her.”
Anna Vroobel, a specialist medical negligence lawyer representing Ms Sampson’s family, said they have endured three previous pre-inquest review hearings in which the trust could have made their application.
She said it also follows the findings of the Kirkup review into serious maternity failings at the EKHUT, which highlighted how the trust buried problems in an attempt to preserve its reputation.
Dr Anton Van Dellen, who is representing Ms Mulcahy’s mother, Nicola Foster, said the trust’s conduct has been “disgraceful”, adding that the blame lies with its management.
“My client considers their conduct to be nothing short of disgraceful,” he said.
“They have caused the loss of this listing, the fruitless attendance of witnesses, and they have impacted on other families because this re-listed inquest will move back the inquests of other families.
“It matches a pattern with which the senior management of the trust have dealt with my clients and has significantly compounded their distress.”
Speaking on behalf of the Sampson family, Jemma Lee also said the trust had displayed the same “wholly lamentable conduct” as previous inquests in which it has been involved.
“This repeat pattern of behaviour is only adding increased distress on individuals,” she said.
Ms Wood said the Senior Coroner for Central and South East Kent, Patricia Harding, has demanded that the trust explains why it submitted its application the night before the inquest was due to start.
EKHUT has argued that it made the anonymity request to protect the reputations of the surgeon and midwife from damaging media reports of the case.
The trust’s lawyer, Clodagh Bradley, said: “If the surgeon is now named and the evidence showed that he was not responsible for infecting those women, he will forever be connected to that case and that misinformation will be linked to him in a way that can never be remedied, placing this in the ‘exceptional’ category of cases.”
The coroner will make a decision on whether the application for anonymity will be granted on Tuesday, with the full inquest due to proceed in April.
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