Princess Royal Hospital
The Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, where many of the babies died Google maps

A series of "avoidable" baby deaths at hospitals run by the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust are being investigated by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The deaths occurred over a two-year period at the trust, with a failure properly to monitor the babies' heart rates believed to have been a contributory factor in five of seven deaths.

According to inquests by the local coroner and legal action against the trust, seven deaths were avoidable. Families further claim that two deaths were never properly investigated by the trust.

BBC News reports that they have uncovered at least nine suspicious deaths at the trust between September 2014 and May 2016, with a further avoidable death in 2013.

The trust's maternity services were severely criticised in an official report published following the death of one baby, Kate Stanton-Davies, in March 2009.

Two supervisory midwives with no links to the trust found a range of "system issues" at the midwife-led unit at the time, with changes being made to Stanton-Davies's clinical observation notes after her death.

The health secretary has asked NHS England and NHS Improvement to review the deaths.

The investigation will also assess other incidents at the trust, including whether each fatality was properly investigated, the BBC reports. The trust will contact each family affected.

A baby's heart is monitored by a cardiotocograph, or CTG, which is designed to give an indication of how the foetal heart rate is responding to stress caused by the mother's contractions. A failure to monitor the decades-old technology is said to be a contributory factor in five of seven deaths.

Hospital: number of baby deaths not exceptional

In response to the investigation, a spokesman for the trust said that the deaths were in line with the national average.

Hospital trust medical director Dr Edwin Borman said: "When I look at the perinatal mortality rate at our trust compared to the rest of the NHS, we are at an equivalent level to the rest of the country," reports the Shropshire Star.

"I would acknowledge that in the case of foetal heart rate monitoring we have identified a number of cases where learning has not been fully implemented.

"We've put systems in place to make improvements. Nationally there has been an initiative called Saving Babies Lives that recognises that throughout the NHS this is a challenge.

"We've been at the forefront of trying to bring in systems that will improve our ability to diagnose when things go wrong."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Earlier this year, the Health Secretary asked NHS regulators to undertake an investigation at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust in light of disclosures that in a number of tragic cases standards of care fell far below those that parents would expect."