As news is released that more than £1 billion was paid by the NHS in compensation last year to the families of babies either killed or left with serious injuries as a result of staff errors, we must ask ourselves why aren’t valuable lessons being learnt?
The NHS recognise that claims arising from maternity units continue to be the single most costly type of litigation claims managed by the NHS Litigation Authority and the evidence suggests that the cost of claims is likely to continue to rise.
In October 2012 a report from NHS Litigation Authority titled ‘Ten Years of Maternity Claims’ revealed that between 2000 and 2010 the NHS paid out more than £3 billion in compensation claims linked to maternity care. When this was reported in 2012 there was a call for better training and for more senior staff to be available during labour. Yet the number of claims continues to rise.
The National Audit Office’s report on maternity services in England, released in November 2013 raised once again the importance of improving risk management and the safety of care. The watchdog also highlighted a shortage of midwives and consultants on labour wards, news we have heard time and time again.
The most common reasons for maternity claims have been mistakes in the management of labour and relating to Caesarean sections, and errors resulting in cerebral palsy. The figure of compensation is often high as children may need care which lasts a lifetime.
Jeanette Aspinall, head of medical negligence at Scott Rees Solicitors says that expectant mothers are experiencing wide variations in maternity care in England. She said: ‘’Two of my local hospital trusts, Morecambe Bay and Southport &Ormskirk have recently been investigated for shocking failings in maternity care. In Morecambe, the death of 16 babies and 3 mothers was almost more than four times the frequency of such failures of care at the nearby Royal Lancaster infirmary.
However, the shocking figure of compensation revealed today is not the true cost of such failings, the impact of birth trauma upon families is enormous. Our medical negligence team deal with many cases involving babies have been left severely disabled at birth and mothers who are seriously physically or psychologically damaged. The sums paid to individual children for negligence causing cerebral palsy seem huge but these children will require considerable care and assistance throughout their life, which is emotionally and financially draining for the family. People’s lives are turned upside down and sadly some relationships break down. A lot of the tragedies we see could have been avoided. We need to cut birth injuries to cut the cost of compensation.’’