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NHS Baby Care in Distress, again

View profile for Guy Pomphrey
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The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, an organisation we should all take note of, recently reported the shocking statistic that three quarters of babies who die or are brain damaged during birth could have been saved.  A link to read The Royal College’s Report can be found here:

In 2015 over 720,000 term babies were born in the United Kingdom.  Of these babies, 1136 suffered death or injury: 11% were stillbirths, 14% died shortly after birth and 75% (854 babies) suffered severe brain injuries.  The vast majority of babies were born without injury in the UK but these 1136 babies should also, according to the Report, have avoided death/injury with better care.

The Report raised the following key recommendations for improved care:

  1. Better fetal heart rate monitoring throughout labour.

    Annual training for staff carrying out fetal heart rate monitoring.

  2. Better staff awareness/communication of safe management in stressful situations with independent input/overall supervision from senior staff. 

This Report follows other alarming statistics about NHS baby care.   Of the limited number of Hospitals that responded to a BBC Freedom of Information request, it was found that between 2013/2016 at least 259 babies or women died.  This was attributed to under-staffed/over-stretched midwifery units as well as a rise in birth rates, older and obese mothers and more complex labours.  

The Government has promised to try and tackle this problem.  Jeremy Hunt, the Health Minister, the Department of Health and NHS Improvement are aiming to reduce the numbers of stillbirth, neonatal deaths and brain injuries by 20% by 2020 and by 50% by 2030.  Although an admirable goal, given the reality on the ground, shown by the recent Reports, we must question is this achievable?

One of the most alarming points to come from the College’s Report is that there was a clear pattern of Hospitals failing to properly investigate deaths or injuries to babies.  This is simply unacceptable and sadly one of the key reasons parents have little option but to contact clinical negligence lawyers to find out what went wrong and sometimes to also seek compensation. 

One of the Government’s previous key policies for the NHS was a Duty of Candour on medical staff to inform patients/parents when mistakes happened.  This is, in my opinion, crucial.  A patient has a right to know if something has gone wrong with their treatment and medical staff will only learn from such mistakes if they are dealt with openly so they can be avoided in the future.

The College’s Report and commentary on this sadly indicates that the same avoidable mistakes with baby care are regularly occurring in the NHS but, despite this, Hospitals/staff are not learning crucial lessons from these errors. 

With the level of medical expertise, knowledge and technology in the UK, the number of baby deaths/brain injuries should be significantly lower than it is.    

Hospital Trusts need to fully engage with their Duty of Candour responsibilities and spend the time and money to comprehensively review and learn from baby care mistakes so that they are not repeated.  Given the level of money the NHS regularly pays out by way of compensation for medical negligence claims there is a clear financial as well as moral basis for actively following this approach.

If you, your child or someone you know has suffered an injury as a result of sub-standard medical care please contact our medical negligence team on 0113 245 8549 or click here to complete our online “ask us a question” form.