The National Health Service Litigation Authority (“NHSLA”) handles clinical negligence claims on behalf of the NHS and  recently released a report entitled ‘Ten Years of Maternity Claims’ .

The Report provides an insight into the costs to the NHS of maternity related clinical negligence claims.  It also outlines the pattern of clinical negligence cases that have been brought against the organisation in the past decade.

The Report has caused newspaper headlines which have focused on the, admittedly eye-catching, statistic that Obstetrics & Gynaecology negligence claims have cost the NHS a total of over £3 billion between 2000 and 2010.  This makes up 49% of the total value of all clinical negligence claims made against the NHS during that period. However, to focus on that overall figure is to miss the perhaps more telling information concerning the frequency of certain types cases and the questions that their prevalence raises.

The most interesting point is the cost of maternity related cerebral palsy claims. Cerebral palsy claims were the third most common category of claim examined in the NHSLA’s study, together they made up 10% of the total number of maternity claims brought during the ten year period. However, the cost of these claims totalled around £1.2 billion, representing 40% of the NHS’ total maternity claims costs.

Happily, the Report did specifically investigate the root causes of high frequency claims such as those for cerebral palsy, seeking to understand whether there were consistently recurring factors that could be addressed. Their finding that improved (and compulsory) training for all staff involved in the labour process, and recommendation that emergency care protocols be updated, are certainly to be welcomed.

Of particular note was the NHSLA’s call for a new study looking into the specific underlying causes of cerebral palsy cases. Given the highly traumatic effect of these cases on both the affected victims, their parents and wider families, not to mention their subsequent cost to the public purse, any effort to minimise their frequency is to be applauded. On the other hand, it is troubling that the Report’s findings indicate that there are repeated patterns of error making within the NHS that are not already being effectively addressed by existing training procedures.

Of course, while the Report is interesting from an academic perspective, its findings are likely to be of little consolation to those individuals whose tragic injuries underlie its statistics. However, some degree of comfort can be taken from the fact that it demonstrates that effective legal action can make a direct difference to the lives of those affected by clinical negligence. Both by providing substantial financial compensation to individual victims, and also by generating the data that drives high-level reviews of nationwide procedures, prompting the whole of NHS to continually review its practices and to make the service safer for all future users.