Baby deaths at a neonatal unit with a “higher than usual” mortality rate are to be investigated by police.
Countess of Chester Hospital reported “a greater number of baby deaths and collapses than normally expected” between June 2015 and July 2016.
The police probe will focus on eight deaths, but a further seven during the same period will also be reviewed.
The hospital trust contacted police after a clinical review found no “definitive explanation” for the rise.
Six non-fatal collapses – where a baby’s breathing or heart rate drop to dangerous levels – will also be reviewed, Cheshire Constabulary said.
A review by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found “no single cause” to explain the increase in neonatal deaths on the unit, while it highlighted “inadequate” staffing levels.
A hospital spokeswoman said: “The trust and its doctors have continuing concerns about the unexplained deaths.
“As a hospital, we have taken the clinical review as far as we can.
“We have now asked for the input of Cheshire Police to seek assurances that enable us to rule out unnatural causes of death.”
Baby deaths at the facility
- 2009 – 3
- 2010 – 1
- 2011 – 3
- 2012 – 3
- 2013 – 2
- 2014 – 3
- 2015 – 8
- 2016 – 5
The Countess of Chester, which looks after about 400 babies a year, stopped providing care for babies born earlier than 32 weeks in July last year.
Any women expected to deliver earlier are transferred elsewhere.
Since the change to admission arrangements there had been no deaths on the unit, the hospital spokeswoman added.
Det Ch Supt Nigel Wenham said: “We recognise that this investigation will have a significant impact on all of the families involved, staff and patients at the hospital and the public.”
Parents of the babies are being updated on the investigation and will be supported throughout, he added.
A solicitor for one family said: “Clearly the death of any child is a tragedy, but this is exacerbated in circumstances where questions remain unanswered.
“However, we are reassured that all steps are now being taken to investigate these deaths in their entirety, and we are hopeful that the investigation can provide some answers for the families of these children.”