Each Baby Counts – can the NHS become the safest place to deliver a baby in the world? | Fieldfisher
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Each Baby Counts – can the NHS become the safest place to deliver a baby in the world?

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) thinks so.

Professor Cameron, Vice President for Clinical Quality at the RCOG, speaks of the Every Baby Counts project as one of the most ambitious projects the RCOG has taken on. According to Professor Cameron we have seen amazing advances in the care of mothers and babies since the 1900s and the UK became one of the safest places to deliver a child. However, since the millennium we have not seen the same improvements in the rates of stillbirth, neonatal death, and children diagnosed with cerebral palsy. 

In stark contrast, in Norway, baby deaths at or around the time of birth have reduced by 50% in the last 20 years. Here, in the UK, this trend has not been replicated.

According to the RCOG more than 500 children either die or are left severely brain injured (sometimes with injuries to other organs) due to avoidable harm. That is a frightening statistic.

The RCOG have said they are committed to reducing the number of baby deaths and babies born with brain injuries as a result of substandard care during labour by 50% by the year 2020. At Fieldfisher we applaud that aim.  None of the many children and families that we act for in clinical negligence claims want to be in the position of having to pursue a claim for compensation. They want, instead, to have had the standard of care they were entitled to receive and not to have suffered irrevocable injury. However we are also mindful that this project focuses on those babies injured at full term in a pregnancy and we have experience of avoidable harm involving premature babies. We accept that the RCOG have to start somewhere.

Just last week I had to break the news to two parents that the defendant hospital trust had admitted that poor care led to one of their twins (their baby boy) being stillborn. Whilst we secured this admission within 4 months of being instructed; whilst the Chief Executive of the Hospital Trust has personally apologised and whilst practices have been changed within the hospital to prevent the same thing happening again, no amount of compensation can ever repair what this family has lost. They will live with this for the rest of their lives.  An admission and an apology, although welcome in the context of the case, are of little solace to this family. 

I therefore commend the RCOG for implementing this project. Any Claimant lawyer doing clinical negligence work hopes he or she can make a difference and that by bringing these cases successfully eventually someone will say – enough - we must do more to avoid the harm. We have seen Legal Aid abolished for all but a few clinical negligence cases and the cost landscape has changed making it harder for patients to access justice when their medical care goes wrong. We have also seen a proliferation of non-specialist firms attempting to undertake this complex work. At Fieldfisher we have a more than 30 year track record in fighting for justice for claimants injured through no fault of their own. As Claimant lawyers we, and others, have being saying for years that the way to save the costs of clinical negligence claims is to avoid the harm in the first place.

As the RCOG have said:

'The emotional cost of these events is immeasurable and each case of disability costs the NHS in excess of £1.5million in compensation to pay for the complex, lifelong support these children need.'

The Each Baby Counts project is calling upon UK maternity services to report all cases of intrapartum stillbirth, early neonatal death and severe neonatal brain injury occurring as a result of incidents during term labour as part of the initiative.

The project was launched in October 2014 and data collection has just begun earlier this month. One of the key aims of the project is to improve the quality of care in labour at a national level bringing together the lessons learned from local investigations. The hope is that avoidable factors can be identified and action plans developed, suitable for local implementation.

This video produced by the RCOG sets out the background to the project and the future aim to make the NHS the safest place to deliver a baby.

In our practice alone we see all too frequent examples of avoidable harm. At the end of last year, one of our partners, Edwina Rawson, settled a multi-million pound case against Newham General Hospital for a baby boy who suffered quadriplegic cerebral palsy as a result of being starved of oxygen during birth. Liability was admitted in full at a very early stage (when the child was just 2). The brain damage was all completely avoidable. Quantification of the claim was put on hold for a number of years, as it was too early to know what the future would hold in terms of his condition and prognosis. During this time, the hospital trust made substantial interim payments which paid for therapies and care and ensured the best education in a specialist school. He far exceeded everyone's expectations. Despite his problems, this young boy was an inspiration. His personality and zest for life won everyone over, including the defendant's experts!  Read about the case here.

Meet  Findlay and his parents

In August 2010, the midwives at the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust repeatedly and negligently misclassified the CTG trace resulting in a 10 and a half hour delay in delivery.

Findley suffered catastrophic brain injury caused by deprivation of oxygen. He also sustained severe damage to his kidneys causing renal hypertension for which he may require dialysis and transplantation later in life. One of our partners, Iona Meeres-Young obtained Judgment for Findley in June 2014

Make Findlay count...

Meet L and his family

In 2007, L’s parents instructed Partner and Head of Department, Paul McNeil who took up the case. Liam suffered cerebral palsy due to a delay in him being delivered when a midwife provided negligent care. Paul issued court proceedings, as the case was strongly defended both in respect of breach of duty of care and causation of injury. Nevertheless, liability was finally admitted and a £9.6 million pound settlement was approved.

Make L count...

Meet K.

He is a gorgeous little boy who I act for. He sustained near total deprivation of oxygen during his delivery following umbilical cord prolapse at a leading London hospital renowned for its world-leading maternity services. He is expected to live into his 60s or 70s and will need 24 hour care. I, with the help of a dedicated legal and expert team, secured judgement for K against the hospital.  We have an interim payment which has helped the family move close to a school which can help K to reach his potential and have a better quality of life. The assessment of damages is due to take place at the High Court in July this year.

Make K count...

Meet Bobby and his parents.

Bobby who sadly passed away 2 days after his birth in April 2013 following a series of failings by the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust. The Coroner stated that Bobby's tragic death had been contributed to by failings in both midwifery and obstetric care.

The Inquest heard from midwives and doctors involved in Bobby's care as well as independent experts. The hospital accepted that there had been a "very serious failure" in the ante-natal midwifery care, which had caused "shockwaves" to the staff involved. It was accepted that Bobby's mother, Catherine, should have been induced between 39-40 weeks, which could have avoided his death.

Make Bobby count...

Meet Lindsey's family.

Lindsey was born in very poor condition after a Caesarean section – she was not breathing and was immediately taken for resuscitation. Her twin brother was delivered well and healthy. 

Lindsey suffered a serious head injury. Her skull had been broken as a result of the excessive pushing by the midwife during delivery. This resulted in a catastrophic brain haemorrhage. The injuries to Lindsey were so extensive that the parents were informed that she was unlikely to survive. Sadly, on 19 December 2010, Lindsay died peacefully.

Lindsey's injirues should have been avoided.

The case settled in May 2014 after the Trust admitted liability and apologised to the parents. The apology helped this family in the recovery process. 

Make Lindsey count....

So my call to the RCOG is not just to learn the lessons of future cases but to learn from all the children we have acted for and continued to act for.  Really do make Every Baby Count.

Written by Samantha Critchley. Samantha specialises in medical negligence claims and is on the specialist Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) panel.

Samantha's specialist medical negligence compensation claims include:

You can email Samantha at samantha.critchley@fieldfisher.com or call her direct on 0330 460 6812.