East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust has become the first NHS trust to face criminal charges for failing to provide a safe standard of clinical care. The charges arose from circumstances surrounding the birth and tragic death of baby Harry Richford, who suffered brain damage after a botched labour, delivery and resuscitation in November 2017. He died a week later when life-support was removed.

In April 2021, the trust pleaded guilty to two charges relating to the death of baby Harry and the risks posed to his mother, Sarah Richford, during his birth in 2017. The trust was accused of failing to provide safe care and treatment in accordance with Regulation 12 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014.

The charges were brought by the CQC (Care Quality Commission), using powers granted to it in 2015 following the Stafford Hospital scandal. Separately, there will be an independent review into the trust’s maternity services by Dr Bill Kirkup, the same expert who led the investigation into failings at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

Whilst there have been CQC criminal prosecutions in the past, the charges have related to harm caused by the failure to provide safe care and treatment in respect of unsafe premises. This latest case relates to the standard of care itself; something which is normally addressed in civil proceedings for compensation under the tort of negligence.

It remains to be seen if this now leads the way for further criminal prosecutions against other NHS trusts for breaches of fundamental standards of care.