Posted by Simon Elliman, Partner
Medical negligence claims increasing for poor maternity care
Does a recent review by the National Audit Office demonstrate falling standards of maternity care?
Significant concerns have been raised regarding the standard of medical care on NHS maternity wards. The National Audit Office has released a report on ‘Maternity services in England’, commenting that: “Most women have good outcomes from NHS maternity services, but there are significant and unexplained variations in performance around the country……our findings on how services are being managed, demonstrate there is substantial scope for further improvement.”
As medical negligence solicitors we endorse the core findings of this report and the need for improved staffing levels on NHS wards alongside much improved training and supervision of clinical staff.
The purpose of the national audit office report was to review whether the standards of care on maternity wards had improved since the implementation of the 2007 Maternity Matters strategy. The statistics provided in the report make for very concerning reading and reflect the stories we regularly hear from mothers who have suffered poor care during pregnancy and the delivery of their baby. In 2011 one in 133 babies was stillborn or died following birth, a rate which requires improvement. The report also reports on an increased level of clinical negligence claims, and on “wide unexplained variations” between trusts in relation to complication rates.
Response from Royal College of Midwives:
The Royal College of Midwives have strongly backed up the findings of the report having previously stated that there needs to be a “seismic shift” in the way maternity care is provided in order to provide women with higher standards of care and prevent birth injuries to baby. This would of course in turn reduce the level of those seeking to sue the NHS.
The Chief Executive of the RCM, Cathy Warwick, stated that the report has backed up what the College has been saying for a long time, commenting: “We are many thousands of midwives short of the number needed to deliver safe, high quality care…..As the report states births are also becoming increasingly complex putting even more demands on midwives and maternity services.”
Response from Public Accounts Committee
Margaret Hodge, the chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said that the NAO report had shown an urgent need to improve maternity services.
“The Department of Health needs to buck up and take responsibility for this. It needs to review its monitoring and reporting process to ensure that all relevant bodies can work effectively together to deliver maternity services that are value for money and fit for purpose.”
Response of our client given on the Today Programme:
James, the father of one of my clients, whose claim was settled recently for approximately £6 million, spoke with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and described his son’s quadriplegic cerebral palsy, caused as a result of negligent medical care. He explained that his son’s life is “as good as we can make it…much better than it would otherwise be”. Responding to a question on the need for damages he stated: “We wouldn’t have to do what we have done if the standards of services were better.”
He confirmed he didn’t bring the claim for punitive reasons or for fun, commenting ” We were very lucky with our Solicitors Withy King, that’s what they deal with.” When asked if the claim made a difference to maternity care he said: “In our case yes it did, the hospital have put in other measures, as it was so bad that they couldn’t read the CTG trace, the monitor in rooms with mother and baby are streamed into another room, with staff looking solely at the CTG trace and they can intervene if they need to.” I was very proud to be able to represent James’ son and make a real difference to the life of him and his family.
The statistics provided in the audit report certainly make for concerning reading, but it’s imperative that these issues are aired and discussed so that they can be addressed. Where there is poor maternity care, the effects on the mothers and babies involved can be devastating, and the outcomes which we see for our clients and their families are heart breaking; the NHS care services to support families with disabled children are wholly inadequate and cannot provide for children with cerebral palsy as they require. When severe outcomes, therefore occur, it is necessary for families to bring medical negligence claims for birth injuries or for an injury to mother – so that compensation can be received for injury.
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