A female “healthcare professional” has been arrested on suspicion of murdering eight babies and attempting to murder six others at The Countess of Chester Hospital.
Cheshire Police said the woman’s arrest today was a “significant step forward” in an ongoing investigation into unexplained deaths at the hospital’s neonatal unit.
“We have today arrested a healthcare professional in connection with the investigation”
The investigation got under way in May this year after the police were called in by the trust, following a review of neonatal services and concern about the cause of death of a number of newborns.
Detectives said the probe initially focused on the deaths of 15 babies between June 2015 and June 2016 as well as six non-fatal collapses during that period.
However, they confirmed the investigation had since widened to encompass the deaths of 17 babies and 15 non-fatal collapses between March 2015 and July 2016.
“As a result of our ongoing enquiries, we have today arrested a healthcare professional in connection with the investigation,” said detective inspector Paul Hughes, who is in charge of the investigation.
“She was arrested earlier this morning on suspicion of murder in relation to eight of the babies and attempted murder in relation to six of the babies and is currently in custody,” he said.
The police would not reveal the role the healthcare worker had within the hospital, which is run by the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
“We recognise that this investigation has a huge impact on all of the families, staff, and patients at the hospital”
Detective inspector Hughes described the investigation as “highly complex and very sensitive”, and said officers were doing “everything we possibly can to try to establish in detail what has led to these baby deaths and collapse”.
He said police had consulted with a number of medical specialists during the course of the investigation and “spoken to a large number of people to gather as much information as we can”.
“Whilst this is a significant step forward in our enquiries, it is important to remember that the investigation is very much active and ongoing at this stage,” he added.
“There are no set timescales for this coming to a conclusion but we remain committed to carrying out a thorough investigation as soon as possible,” said Mr Hughes. He also stressed that the impact on the families involved as well as hospital staff and patients.
“We recognise that this investigation has a huge impact on all of the families, staff, and patients at the hospital as well as members of the public,” he said. “Parents of all the babies are continuing to be kept fully updated and are being supported throughout the process by specially trained officers.
“This is an extremely difficult time for all the families and it is important to remember that, at the heart of this, there are a number of bereaved families seeking answers as to what happened to their children,” he added.
“We need to do everything we can to understand what has happened here”
The trust asked police to intervene following a clinical review of neonatal services at the Countess of Chester carried out by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which was published in February this year.
It included a review of case notes by an independent neonatologist, which threw up unanswered questions about the causes of a number of baby deaths.
Trust medical director Ian Harvey said that asking the police to look into the deaths “was not something we did lightly”.
“We need to do everything we can to understand what has happened here and get the answers we and the families so desperately want,” he said in a statement.
“The Countess is now equivalent to a Level 1 Special Care Baby Unit and we are confident the unit is safe to continue in its current form,” he said.
The trust stopped providing care for babies born earlier than 32 weeks in July 2016, after it reported an increase in neonatal mortality rates for 2015 and 2016 compared to previous years.
Anyone with any further information regarding the police investigation can get in touch with the Operation Hummingbird team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org