The Independent newspaper reports (21 July 2020) on an award of £37 million pounds in compensation to a brain damaged boy in one of the largest maternity negligence claims the health service has seen. Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust admitted liability. The child is severely disabled and needs 24- hour care for the rest of his life. The newspaper goes on to say how this award underlines mounting concerns over maternity safety.
At Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, an inquiry has shown up failings thought to have led to the deaths and brain damage in babies with up to 1800 families affected. Initially there were thought to be 23 cases. Police are now investigating to see if there could be criminal charges. In East Kent, there is still a higher-than-average number of babies dying at its maternity units, with more than 130 birth brain injuries. An inquiry is under way there as well.
The boy involved in the £37 million claim was born in 2013. Maternity staff did not spot he was a “breech baby”, with his feet being born first instead of the head, a not uncommon occurrence. This is something that should have been and usually is discovered before birth and steps can be taken to correct it or an elective caesarean section offered. In this boy’s case, it was only discovered when his heart rate dropped during birth and an emergency C-section was necessary. Sadly, the delay in birth meant he was deprived of oxygen for too long and he became severely disabled.
Suzanne White from solicitors Leigh Day, who handled the case, said what had happened to the boy was an “absolute tragedy”, adding:
“The sum of compensation paid is one of the largest of its kind and reflects the complex needs which have resulted from the injuries sustained….”
The compensation will be taken up largely by the extensive care needs this child will have and will also pay for suitable accommodation for the family to allow the very specialist care to be provided. The money is unlikely to be paid in a lump sum all at once, but it more likely to be paid by giving the family a lumps sum each year sufficient to meet the child’s needs -a “periodical payment”.
“I have been doing these cases for 20 years and it is very depressing to see that while the costs of these claims are rising, care doesn’t seem to be improving. If we avoid one of these cases we save millions of pounds and prevent hideous distress and pain for a family.”
This is not an exaggeration. The stresses and strains of caring for children as severely disabled as this are enormous and families do a wonderful job. They need all the help they can get and not just financially. Compensation is not a “lottery win” for them- it is vital funding.
The Independent newspaper is campaigning with the charity Baby Lifeline to improve maternity care.
Judy Ledger, founder and chief executive of Baby Lifeline said:
“Baby Lifeline is campaigning for the government to invest more funding into the maternity sector – especially for safety training so that serious injuries like this could be avoided.”
She went on to say that it was time for a wider examination of maternity safety in the NHS, as there seem to be recurring themes and wide ranging and systemic issues. A full enquiry may be necessary and not just specific ones such as the Ockenden inquiry, set up in 2017 which is investigating Shrewsbury.
It is painful to have to write about these cases at a time when the NHS has done such sterling work during the Covid 19 crisis and shown us what it is capable of. But these figures cannot be ignored if they are truly reflecting what is happening in maternity services across the country. We know that there are individual doctors and nurses doing their best in all hospitals, so where are they being failed and why? What needs to be done so that these cases don’t happen in the first place? We can only agree with Suzanne’s comment about how preventing one of these cases saves millions of pounds , but also prevents the catastrophic consequences for the injured children and their families.
You can find out more and support Baby Lifeline at http://babylifeline.org.uk/home/
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Brenda Gilligan is a solicitor at Ringrose Law and is accredited as a specialist to both the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers Clinical Negligence Panel and Personal Injury Panel. She has been working with brain damage claims of all types for Claimants for 30 years.
John Knight, Senior Partner at Ringrose Law and Head of Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury is a Trustee of Headway, the national charity for head injured and brain damaged people.