Baby death sparks claims against Livingston clinic

Sutherland: smothered daughter. Picture: PA
Sutherland: smothered daughter. Picture: PA
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DAMNING allegations about the running of a specialist psychiatric service which failed to offer help to a mother before she killed her baby have been handed to the Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison.

The concerns about NHS Lothian’s perinatal service based in St John’s Hospital in Livingston were passed on in a letter from Lothians MSP Neil Findlay in May. In it, Findlay outlines claims made by people close to the service. They say non-specialist managers and clinicians interfere with decisions outside their competency and that communications are chaotic, with files “mislaid” and clinically urgent letters delayed for weeks before they are dictated or signed. And they claim assessments undertaken in all parts of the service are limited and poor, as is formal care planning.

The letter also includes allegations that the St John’s Mother and Baby Unit (an in-patient facility with six beds) has been operating without specialist perinatal staff, and that staffing ratios are worryingly low.

Findlay questions the rigour of previous inquiries and says some of their recommendations have not been properly implemented. In particular, he highlights alleged inadequacies in the triage system and the standard of specialist training, support and supervision. The details of the letter have emerged days after a court heard Erin Sutherland’s family doctor contacted the perinatal mental health team to organise for her to see a psychiatric nurse in December last year, but was told she was ineligible because her daughter Chloe was more than six months old. Sutherland smothered Chloe on 3 February.

Findlay’s letter also alleges:

Staff are never given feedback about cases especially with regard to complaints.

Events on the ward are not being properly recorded or recorded at all.

The whistle-blowing hotline is ineffective.

Following the court case last week, the Scottish Government asked the Mental Health Welfare Commission to carry out an inquiry.

Jim Forrest, director of West Lothian Community Health and Care Partnership, said the allegations were similar to those raised and investigated several years ago, which resulted in a clean bill of health for the service. However, he said recruiting specialist staff was challenging.