Maternity negligence claims set to remain an issue as report discovers that 41% of maternity units nationally require improvement. If you are looking for Devon injury lawyers who are experienced in dealing with maternity negligence claims then give us a call on 01271 372128 or email [email protected]
Sian O’Neill, who deals with medical negligence claims at our Barnstaple office, takes a look at standards of maternity care.
It is a worrying time to be of child bearing age in England and Wales right now, with scandals coming from Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, East Kent University Trust and even our local hospital here in North Devon. Maternity care is not where it should be, with politics and statistics heavily influencing doctors and procedures, and with the majority of staff being overworked with resources stretched to their limits.
The government is taking notice however, as evidenced by a new report from a select committee led by former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The report is the first evaluation of its kind and found that an investment of £350 million is immediately required to prevent parent and baby deaths being caused by avoidable harm during birth.
Jeremy Hunt is quoted as stating:
“Although the majority of NHS births are totally safe, failings in maternity services can have a devastating outcome for the families involved. Despite a number of high-profile incidents, improvements in maternity safety are still not happening quickly enough. Although the NHS deserves credit for reducing baby deaths and stillbirths significantly, around 1,000 more babies would live every year…”
The report indicates that only 8% of maternity units are meeting the highest standards and requirements for training and care, with 41% of units nationally needing to improve their safety. With nearly half the country’s maternity facilities needing improvement we think expectant mother’s fears are justified.
8 out of 10 midwives report that there is not enough staff per shift to provide a safe service to maternity patients. Part of the £350 million investment is needed to fill the gap in staff shortages. Even though £96 million was provided to the NHS for training an additional 1,000 midwives there is still a near 2,000 midwife and 500 doctor deficit in maternity care.
There are also reports of dysfunctional teams within units across the country which is a breeding ground for miscommunication and mistakes. The number of clients who tell us that doctors do not listen to the midwives, and midwives do not listen to the parents is shocking. We regularly hear of expectant parents being turned away to wait out a little more of their labour at home, being told they cannot possibly be ready to push because this is their first child or being fed dangerous ideologies about which birthing process is ‘normal’ rather than what is safest for them.
It is clear from the report that doctors are often too concerned about the statistics and performance of themselves and their departments and this affects the standard of care they provide to expectant parents. Caesarean section data, for instance, is used as an indication of performance and that fact leaves us wondering whether doctors do not suggest caesarean sections – even when they are best and safest for parent and child – because they are aware of the knock on effect it will have on their department. Jeremy Hunt called for an immediate stop to using such data as a performance statistic in the hope that maternity care can refocus on patient safety.
Despite a real focus by the media and government on maternity care and the numerous scandals that have arisen across the country, many units are still haunted by their past and remnants of dangerous practice remain.
The pervading defensive culture combined with self-protective attitudes among staff can have dramatic impact on the victims of negligence. It has been shown that children who suffer an injury at birth and make maternity negligence claims greatly benefit from early payments of compensation. An ‘interim payment’ of compensation can provide them with assistance and care to aid their development and help them overcome health challenges. However, if doctors and midwives try to cover up mistakes and investigations into incidents are delayed, it can be years before the truth comes to light and children end up missing out on early intervention and assistance which can lead to longer term problems for them in later life.
The head of the clinical negligence department at Slee Blackwell Solicitors, Oliver Thorne, has long said that victims of negligence, especially those suffering injuries at birth, would benefit from doctors, midwives and other healthcare professionals feeling more able to admit their mistakes. The attention and focus should be on the child and giving them the best possible chance of overcoming the difficulties caused by their birth injury, not on avoiding maternity negligence claims and protecting jobs and reputations.
The hope is that practitioners can learn from their own mistakes and from the mistakes of others as NHS hospital trusts are now being encouraged to share their learning. If the NHS can move away from a blame culture which fuels the hiding of mistakes there is optimism for a better and safer maternity sector and significant reduction in avoidable harm.
We are experienced in dealing with birth injury and maternity negligence claims. To speak to a member of our team about a free case assessment please contact us on 01271 372128 or email [email protected]
Read the full report here: