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Parents join calls for maternity review at hospital trust after baby’s death

Chloe Vowels Lovett and Toby Lovett hold a picture of their baby Esme (PA)
Chloe Vowels Lovett and Toby Lovett hold a picture of their baby Esme (PA)

A mother who lost her baby daughter after medical staff missed opportunities to save her has called on hospital bosses to “listen to mothers” as she joined calls for a public inquiry into a trust’s maternity services.

Chloe Vowels Lovett said her “horrendous stabbing pains” which began 33 weeks into her pregnancy had been dismissed by hospital staff as normal before her baby Esme was stillborn at 38 weeks on February 18 2022.

A post-mortem examination and internal investigation at Worthing hospital later found the 29-year-old, who was deemed a high-risk pregnancy, had placenta abruption and another condition of polyhydramnios which increases risk in stillbirth.

The findings also said medics missed at least six opportunities to have intervened before Esme’s death, according to law firm CL Medilaw.

Ms Vowels Lovett and her husband Toby Lovett are campaigning for an independent review to take place into University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Worthing Hospital and Royal Sussex County Hospital among others.

The couple, from Southwater in West Sussex, were expecting Esme after seven years of trying to conceive and six miscarriages, and say a theme of “not being listened to” by midwives and doctors emerged when speaking to other parents.

Since her death, Ms Vowels Lovett said: “As time went on, we began realising that it wasn’t just us that this has happened to, there’s more and more of us and there’s actually a group of us who have now come together who have all lost babies with this particular trust.

“I think it just pushes forward the fact that something more needs to be done, because with all of us and our cases, we’re all promised afterwards this will change and we’ll make these improvements.

“But meeting these other families, it’s kind of a timeline that proves that these changes aren’t happening. So I think pushing for a review, hopefully we’ll force their hand.”

She added: “I know for myself and others, it almost feels like a little bit of justice for us. And obviously to try and help prevent other families going through the same thing.

“To lose a child when you shouldn’t have lost a child is just unbearable.”

The campaign comes as an all-parliamentary inquiry into birth trauma was published this week which heard from 1,300 people who had traumatic birth experiences and concluded that women are often “treated as an inconvenience”.

Ms Vowels Lovett recalled screaming when she found out Esme had died, shouting “I told you something was wrong, this was your fault”, after feeling a gut instinct something was wrong for weeks.

She said she had not been able to get out of bed in weeks 33 to 38 of her pregnancy and could not walk because of the pain but, despite going into hospital and multiple triage calls, she was ignored.

She said the last phone call she made to triage when she had lost blood will stay with her forever, after she recalled the midwife telling her it did not sound like she was in pain and suggested she should “get on with your life” and “why don’t you go to Waitrose”.

Trust bosses have apologised to the family for Esme’s death and have said the investigation from the incident has led to improvements in the service.

But Ms Vowels Lovett said the loss has “destroyed” their lives.

“I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD since, neither me or my husband are the same people that we once were and I don’t see how we ever will be again,” she said.

“We’re always going to live with a child missing and that’s something really hard to cope with.”

In a message to hospital bosses, Ms Vowels Lovett said: “Don’t put other families through this and listen to mothers, if they feel strongly that something’s wrong or they keep coming in there must be a reason.”

Parents Robyn and Jonny Davis are also calling for a public inquiry after an inquest found neglect at Worthing Hospital contributed to the death of their 14-day-old baby Orlando.

Clinical negligence solicitor Laura Cook, from CL Medilaw, said the firm is supporting the families in the call for a review, likening it to the families who began pushing for an independent review of maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals, which is ongoing.

“I think this is how it starts, it’s a few families that get together and they push it through and so it’s good to be there to support them like that,” Ms Cook said.

“But it’s very much something that they have to lead themselves, it’s their experiences.”

She added: “I think there’s a high chance we’re gathering momentum that we’ll be able to push for something like that to happen.”

Other families are being encouraged to come forward to join the parents’ campaign, who could also have suffered losses in other ways such as injuries to the mother or child during labour.

The law firm is also representing both families in civil claims against the trust.

The University Hospitals Sussex Trust chief of women and children’s division, Dr Tim Taylor, said: “We have met with Esme’s family to express our deepest condolences and sincere apologies for their devastating loss, and I would like to repeat that apology publicly today.

“Following this tragedy in 2022, we carried out an extensive investigation to help answer the family’s questions. This led to significant improvements being made to the service, which we have implemented and since shared with the family.”

Since the investigation ended in October 2022, the trust has offered urgent appointments for parents with complex medical issues, and launched a centralised telephone triage service among other improvements.