The birth of a child should be a joyous and extraordinary event in life. The tragedy of a still birth is a devastating outcome for any parent and is sadly an increasing occurrence in the UK. A shocking report published in the British Medical Journal has revealed that a mother is more likely to have a stillbirth if she delivers her baby at the weekend in an NHS hospital.
The prime responsibility for ensuring the safety of clinical services rests with the clinicians who provide them. In many cases, the death of a baby may not be preventable. However, there is also evidence that a still birth could be due to sub-standard care by medical experts and could therefore be prevented. In order to establish a potential claim for clinical negligence, a claimant needs to prove that the medical experts have a duty of care, that they breached that duty of care, and that this breach caused a still birth.
Jeremy Hunt, Health Care Secretary, has recently called for the reformation of care standards of midwives and doctors in order to reduce the number of still births in the UK. By 2030, Mr Hunt aims to reduce the number of still births by 50%. Dr David Richmond, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, has stated that, ‘many of these incidents could be avoided with improvements to the care women and their babies experience.’
The reforms follow the shocking revelations exposed by “The Morecambe Bay Investigation,” a report based on the findings of the Secretary of State following a review of maternity units at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. The investigation was triggered by the ‘preventable deaths’ of eleven babies and one mother at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria. The report states that there was, ‘a lethal mix that, we have no doubt, led to the unnecessary deaths of mothers and babies.’
Examples of sub-standard care could include:
- Inadequate care due to the failures of risk assessments.
- Attempting to pursue a normal childbirth ‘at any cost.’
- Failure to monitor a baby’s heartbeat in order to detect any abnormalities early on.
- Failure to interpret scans/growth scans correctly.
- Not keeping up with the latest standards of care.
- Failure to demonstrate clinical competence/knowledge.
- An inadequate response/investigation into an adverse incident.
Jeremy Hunt has stated that the NHS should offer ‘the safest care, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.’ The government will be expected to work with national and international experts to ensure that mothers receive sufficient care. There will be a national approach to maternity services, which will ensure that competent members of staff are able to detect perinatal risks through training.
The government will also invest £4 million in NHS Trusts, which will be used to purchase high tech digital equipment and to create a new system for staff training and review. This will hopefully enable midwives and doctors to detect risks due to abnormal heartbeats, for example. Training mannequins could also be purchased so that midwifery staff can put their training into practice.
If you believe you have been subject to clinical negligence due to care received by the midwifery services, you may be entitled to compensation. Please contact one of our clinical negligence solicitors for any further advice on 0845 287 0939.