Mismanagement of labour left child with cerebral palsy

A child, known only as Julie, has received a multi-million pound settlement after her birth was mismanaged leaving her with cerebral palsy and in need of care for the rest of her life.

Julie has severe physical and learning disabilities. She finds it difficult to communicate, cannot see properly and lacks motor and dexterity skills.

When Julie’s mother was 13 days overdue she was admitted to hospital for labour to be induced.

She was given Syntocinon, a drug that is used to enhance contractions. This drug requires careful management, as it can pose life-threatening risks to both mother and baby if not properly administered and overseen.

A few hours before her birth, the fetal heart monitor showed that Julie was experiencing an abnormal heart rate – a sign of fetal distress.

The midwife initially reduced the Syntocinon dosage, but, although Julie’s heart continued to beat very quickly, and her mother’s contractions remained very powerful, the midwife soon increased the dose of the Syntocinon back to its original level.

The artificially strong and rapid contractions caused fetal distress and reduced the blood supply to Julie.

Julie suffered partial asphyxia, a reduction in the amount of oxygen reaching her internal organs.

Normally, a baby would receive oxygen-rich blood from the mother through the umbilical cord and from the placenta.  In Julie’s case, her mother’s extremely strong and frequent contractions, driven by the Syntocinon, obstructed the supply of blood to Julie.

Unborn babies are highly resistant to damage from a reduced blood-flow, and can generally endure such conditions for up to an hour without suffering damage.

However, Julie suffered irreversible brain damage after being deprived of sufficient oxygen for up to three hours.

Julie was eventually delivered by caesarean section, but by that time she had already suffered permanent brain damage because of the reduction of the blood supply.

Five years later, the hospital admitted liability.

Sarah Campbell, a partner in the clinical negligence team who represented Julie’s family, said:

“All we as lawyers can do, when faced with the aftermath of a totally unnecessary tragedy like this, is to work to ensure that children like Julie have access to the care and facilities they need to enjoy as happy and as fulfilling a life as has been left to them.” “The real unsung heroes in this case, as in so many others, are Julie’s parents, who worked alongside the legal team to achieve the settlement.”  

“I can’t put it any better than the Judge who, in approving the settlement, said: “I am humbled by the extraordinary love and devotion Julie has been shown by her remarkable parents, who have been faced with an extraordinary, terrifying and intimidating challenge to which they seem to have risen to a quite remarkable degree.”

“I hope the settlement reached can in some small way help Julie and her family face the challenges which undoubtedly still lie ahead for them.”

At the conclusion of the case, Julie’s father said:

“The action we took against the hospital has given Julie a brighter and more secure future, where her needs can be met and her potential maximised. The legal process also provided us with answers to many of the questions we had around why the mistakes were made in the first place.  We just hope that when the hospital says 'lessons have been learned', they mean it.

"The professionalism and dedication of Sarah Campbell and her team at Leigh Day has been extraordinary. It was a long, eight-year journey. There were times when it was tough; forcing us to think about things we would rather put to the back of our minds.  But throughout the journey we always felt we were being supported by a very caring and experienced team at Leigh Day."