Still births – Still happening, still avoidable and often, still because of negligent care.
The loss of a baby during pregnancy – a stillbirth – is devastating. That is recognised by a range of charities that work to change the status quo and reduce the numbers of stillbirths; SANDs and Baby Lifeline to name two prominent Charites who do great work both in supporting grieving parents and campaigning and educating for better care.
They have been given a boost in their fight for change by one MP speaking out for immediate reforms in the NHS - not only because she believes that the NHS needs to change, but because she has suffered a stillbirth, that she has been told was avoidable if she had received the proper care that the NHS is supposed to provide.
Patricia Gibson has told her story to the National Press, describing how she went full term in her pregnancy, but on her due date became unwell with symptoms of Pre-Eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a condition that cannot be prevented but once diagnosed can usually be managed to avoid the loss of the baby. Tragically for Patricia Gibson, she says that though she presented to her midwifery unit with signs of Pre-Eclampsia, the midwives she saw did not recognise it was developing and until too late, and that error led to the death of her baby in the womb.
Agonisingly for pregnant mothers, if you child dies in your womb you still have to go through labour to deliver your baby, whist you are still trying to come to terms with your loss, and with the knowledge that you will not be able to hold a living thriving baby. She then faced obstacles and delay in having her concerns dealt with by the treating hospital, which must have exacerbated her and her partner's loss terribly.
Patricia a Scottish MP for North Ayrshire and Arran was reported in the National Scot as saying:
“I have a wish list. Given that 45 per cent of women who have had stillborns were sent home when they expressed concerns, I want to bed into our culture a more collaborative system where people’s concerns are listened to. That doesn’t cost anything.
The next thing I want is that when mistakes are made, health boards or health trusts should not be investigating themselves. An independent body must be brought in to investigate full-term stillbirths and there needs to be a time limit.
The other thing I would like to see is that when babies are stillborn at full-term, which is 34 per cent of all stillbirths in Scotland, coroners should become involved as they would be able to pinpoint causes of death and how lessons can be learned.
When they are done they can issue a prevention of future deaths report which gives each hospital where this has occurred, and it was preventable, steps they can take in the future to make it less likely that a similar thing will happen again. It will drive down the incidents.”
Patricia stated that a series of failures ended in the avoidable death of her baby and that she wants to put a stop to the “culture of cover-ups”.
Patricia added: “The real tragedy here is that my case is far from unique and this is happening all the time. Mistakes are being swept under the carpet. There is a culture of cover-ups and a real reluctance for people to admit they made mistakes because they are worried about possible legal action.
When I left the Southern General after my baby died I was assured there would be a full investigation into what went wrong.
The circumstances surrounding the stillbirth were as if I was being looked after by Laurel and Hardy. It was that bad.
They said they would report back to me and let me know what had gone wrong and how they would mitigate that in the future to prevent such mistakes happening again.”
Like many families we act for, they were only able to find out why what had happened to them had happened by pursuing a medical negligence claim, through which process they were able to obtain medical expert advice about the cause of their baby's death. However that is far from ideal; it is likely that having to pursue a legal action only prolonged the pain of their loss. That case has now settled, and a spokeswoman for the Hospital has gone on record stating that: “We can confirm that an out-of-court settlement was reached regarding this case but it would be inappropriate to comment on the detail of this.”
We hope that Patricia's story, like hundreds of others, are listened to, and that the Department of health looks carefully at what improvements can be made to reduce the level of still births in the UK.
If you have been affected by mismanaged antenatal care, or suffered a loss of a child then you have the option of complaining about the care you received. That complaint process may be enable you to understand what went wrong and in itself help you to grieve in peace for your loss. Where families suffer persisting financial losses because of the loss of their child, or where the complaint process is not enough, they may also want to investigate pursuing a civil claim, and to do that they should speak to a specialist clinical negligence lawyer, with expertise in running obstetric cases, as they involve complex medical issues. Here at Fieldfisher we have a high level of expertise in this area and will be able to advise you on your options.
By Caron Heyes.
Caron is a solicitor in our Clinical Negligence team in London. She has pursued clinical negligence claims on behalf of patients across a broad spectrum of claim types, including obstetrics and gynaecology, neonatology, oncology, cardiology, Emergency, fertility and patient rights. Caron has a particular expertise in complex neonatal, obstetric, surgical mismanagement and accident claims and is experienced in providing advice and representation at inquests.
The Legal 500, and Chambers, UK, a Client's Guide to the Legal Profession, have repeatedly recognised Caron's expertise as a leader in the field of Clinical negligence, and recommended her as an "experienced, adept and supportive lawyer" and "a star associate".