An investigation into the suspicious deaths of seventeen babies at the Countess of Chester Hospital involves families from North Wales.
Cheshire detectives have arrested a female healthcare worker on suspicion of eight murders and six attempted murders at the neonatal unit between March 2015 and July 2016.
The investigation, launched in May last year, is also looking into fifteen non-fatal collapses at the hospital. A search is also taking place at a house on Westbourne Road in the Blacon area of the city.
Cheshire Police said the arrest was a significant step forward in their inquiry, but no further details about the suspect were released.
They were initially investigating the deaths of fifteen babies, but their probe has widened as officers continue to gather as much information as possible.
Detective Inspector Paul Hughes, leading what has been dubbed as Operation Hummingbird, said a dedicated team of officers was working tirelessly on the case: ”This is a highly complex and very sensitive investigation and, as you can appreciate, we need to ensure we do everything we possibly can to try to establish in detail what has led to these baby deaths and collapses.”
”Due to the nature of the case and, as part of our ongoing enquiries, we have consulted with a number of medical specialists to ensure that we carry out as thorough an investigation as possible. We have also 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. 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.”
Management at the Countess of Chester Hospital said the neonatal unit was still open to women over 32 weeks into their pregnancy. But since July 2016, the unit has not provided care to babies born earlier after a greater number of deaths and collapses than normal was reported.
The hospital’s medical director, Ian Harvey, said they were continuing to support the investigation: ”Asking the police to look into this was not something we did lightly, but we need to do everything we can to understand what has happened here and get the answers we and the families so desperately want…we are confident the unit is safe to continue in its current form.”
In February last year, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health criticised the hospital for inadequate staffing on the neonatal unit. A report said there was no definitive explanation for the increase in baby deaths after finding evidence of major gaps in nursing rotas and ”poor decision making”.