Not many would disagree with the sentiment, certainly among medical and legal professionals, that if through a catastrophic medical mistake at birth, a person is left living with cerebral palsy, society has the responsibility to recognise and take remedial action when the injuries are caused by negligence and to provide the financial support to allow that person to live the best life possible.
As highlighted on the World CP Day website, however, even in countries such as the UK that recognise that responsibility, massive questions in relation to patient safety and properly compensating children with cerebral palsy require us to be on our guard.
My concern here, which I spoke about at the recent Westminster Health Forum, a series of conferences discussing healthcare issues, is that the Government has never set out how it might prevent the injuries in the first place to ameliorate the ever increasing cost of medical negligence while ensuing affected patients, babies and their families in cerebral palsy cases, receive proportionate redress.
Head of NHSR, Helen Vernon, has outlined plans for Rapid response and redress (RRR), as a no-fault compensation scheme, which will be voluntary – meaning families of children suffering neurological injury at birth can apply for no-fault compensation.
While any scheme that means children will potentially receive compensation is clearly a good thing, there are significant problems with this proposal, not least the fundamental premise that the NHS should promote a learning culture – so that the avoidable tragedies of babies born with CP should be taken so seriously that they never happen again.
If a birth injury is simply labelled 'no fault', seemingly to speed up compensation at a lower level for desperate families, what does that say about future patient safety? If the injury is the result of a negligent mistake, which many are, the NHS must fully investigate what went wrong, out of respect for the family affected and to ensure the same mistake never happens again.
Unfortunately, as the recent NHS report on five years of data on cerebral palsy claims shows, the same systemic and human errors in maternity wards – usually around fetal monitoring – continue time and again, with devastating consequences.
My final thought is that NHSR is not the right organisation to run this proposed scheme. It needs an independent ombudsman, as in Sweden, with independent experts who can investigate and make recommendations. That is the only way that lessons learnt will ever feed back into medical practice and bring about any sort of change for the avoidable tragedy of cerebral palsy.
In the meantime, the Fieldfisher team remains fully committed to working with clients affected by cerebral palsy to secure the best possible outcome within the current system to secure the lives of those neurologically injured at birth.
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