Each Baby Counts

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Acting in medical negligence claims for parents who have needlessly lost a child at birth, or have a child who has sustained a brain injury due to medical errors during birth, is probably one of the most challenging aspects of a solicitor’s role. The emotion couldn’t be more raw and the stakes seldom higher. The arguments as to causation and whether the errors resulted in a materially different outcome for the child present some of the most challenging and complex legal issues that can arise in this area of the law.

The knowledge then that things could and should have been done differently can come as a hammer blow for many grieving parents.

Sadly (and in my view inexcusably given our economic standing) the UK still lags behind its European counterparts in so far as stillbirth and neonatal death rates are concerned. Only last week was a report published by MBRRACE-UK which showed that 21 Trusts and Health Boards across the country (i.e. one in eight) have unacceptably high mortality rates – that being 10% greater than the average.  The figures released did suggest some improvement over the last few years but disappointingly neonatal death rates only dropped slightly -suggesting lessons are not being learned quickly enough when things do go wrong.

In addition to that report, on the 21 June 2017 findings published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists via their national quality improvement programme ‘Each Baby Counts’ showed that each year between 500 and 800 babies die or are left with severe brain injury – not because they are born too soon or too small, or have a congenital abnormality, but because something goes wrong during labour. Whilst certainly not all of these are unavoidable tragedies, many are. Indeed, the research found that as many as three in every four of the babies included in the study may have had a different outcome had they received appropriate care. It is perhaps unsurprising then that the RCOG has laid out ambitious plans to reduce this unnecessary suffering and loss of life by 50% by 2020.

This is certainly a laudable aim and one all of us support, both Claimant and Defendant alike.

Beyond the figures though, what is being recommended to improve things on the ground?

The Each Baby Counts report recommends:

  • all low-risk women are assessed on admission in labour to see what foetal monitoring is needed
  • staff get annual training on interpreting baby heart-rate traces (CTGs)
  • a senior member of staff must maintain oversight of the activity on the delivery suite
  • all trusts and health boards should inform the parents of any local review taking place and invite them to contribute

These recommendations are promising and credit must be given to those within the profession for recognising the problem and striving for better results. The current Government must, however, do their bit and take responsibility for what is a creaking health system rather than continue to aim its guns at Claimants and their solicitors who seek redress when negligent errors occur. The rather blatant and cynical tactic of deflecting blame and public scrutiny for the size of the annual medical negligence bill away from the Government and onto those injured as a result of negligence must end. Few would argue, I think, that focus is better shifted to what additional resources, training and funding are needed in order to reduce incidents of negligence in the first place rather than seeking to make it more difficult for those affected making claims.

 

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