If you could see the cases I deal with day to day, where the same mistakes occur again and again, I think you would find it difficult to accept that the NHS is learning lessons from the cases we bring against them. For most people who bring a claim, one of their main motivations is the desire to raise awareness of the issues in their case and ensure that the same thing does not happen to someone else.

With this in mind, I very much hope that the recent report published by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) on 26th October 2012 is a step in the right direction.

Ten Years of Maternity Claims Report, NHSLA, 26th October 2012

The report examines 10 years of claims brought against the NHS arising out of poor maternity care occurring between 1 April 2000 and 31 March 2010.

Out of all the births which took place over the 10 year period, 5,087 resulted in claims against the NHS and many of those cases involved junior doctors and inexperienced midwives. 70% of the cases involved mistakes in the management of labour, the interpretation of monitoring equipment with some causing brain damage to the baby resulting in cerebral palsy.

The investigators looked at claims resulting from negligence in 4 key areas:  

  • ultrasound investigations in the antenatal period;
  • the interpretation of equipment used to monitor the baby’s wellbeing in the uterus ie cardiotocographs (CTG);
  • perineal trauma to the mother during labour and birth;
  • and rupture of the uterus.

They found that most failures were due to human error and there is a need for more effective training and development of staff. There also needs to be more effective multi-disciplinary team working and mutual respect between obstetricians and midwives. The errors we are talking about are not minor: they are a fundamental part of the job of caring for women and babies.

The report advises that local maternity services must ensure that national guidance on standards of care is considered and properly reflected within each hospital’s guidelines and protocols. Just as importantly, there needs to be more senior staff available during labour and a better understanding among junior staff about when to ask them for help.

Baby Lifeline chief speaks out after report reveals mistakes cost NHS billion in pay-outs

We work closely with Baby Lifeline, an excellent charity which strives to improve the care of pregnant mothers and new born babies all over the UK and beyond, by raising money for much needed equipment and providing specialist training to midwives and obstetricians.

Judy Ledger, their Chief Executive, has welcomed the report. She stresses that funding must be provided to maternity units to enable them to put in place improved training programmes. As Judy states, maternity care is ‘beset with staff shortages and ridiculously slashed budgets’ and ‘training staff would cost a fraction of these litigation claims and would prevent devastation for families.’