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Learning from avoidable brain injuries at birth – NHS Resolution Report


Author: Sara Westwood

Clinical Negligence

Sara Westwood, Partner and Medical Negligence Expert at Hatch Brenner Solicitors in Norwich

Sara Westwood, Partner and Medical Negligence Expert at Hatch Brenner Solicitors in Norwich

NHS Resolution has reported on the first year of its innovative scheme to drive improvements in maternity and neonatal services, ensuring that the families of babies who suffer avoidable brain injuries at birth are better supported and are awarded compensation where necessary without delay.

Since the scheme was introduced, early admissions of liability have been given to 24 families within 18 months of the birth.

Previously, the average length of time between an incident occurring and an award for compensation being made was 11.5 years, with claims often not notified to NHS Resolution until four to five years after the incident and compensation paid when the full extent of injuries were apparent.

A key aim of this scheme was to shorten the time taken to report an incident, to enable mistakes to be identified sooner, lessons to be learnt quickly and for support and answers to be provided to families as soon as possible, at a time when they need it the most.

Families who have been supported by the scheme so far have been provided with:

  • A detailed explanation
  • An apology
  • Sign-posting to independent representation; and where an entitlement to compensation has been identified
  • Prompt financial support for clinical and respite care
  • Psychological support

NHS Resolution is working in partnership with other organisations to support the Government’s target of halving the rates of stillbirths, neonatal/maternal deaths and brain injuries associated with birth by 2025.

The report makes six recommendations:

  • Urgent research to develop a standardised approach to monitoring fetal heart rates
  • Open conversations with families about their care and the investigation process
  • Support, including a psychological assessment
  • Raised awareness of the difficulties of delivering the head during Caesarean sections
  • Improved detection of hyponatraemia
  • Increased awareness of the importance of resuscitation and immediate care of neonatal babies

Solicitor Sara Westwood has acted on behalf of a number of babies who have sustained brain injuries at birth due to a mismanaged labour or delivery.

Case study: Baby suffered brain damage during childbirth.

Mrs X was admitted to hospital just after midnight in labour with her first baby. She was 10 days past her expected delivery date. A belt was placed on her abdomen so the baby’s heart rate could be monitored. The results showed the baby’s heart rate to be persistently fast in which circumstances the monitoring should have been continued. It was however discontinued. Further monitoring took place between 04.12 and 05.12 and the results were, again, concerning. At this point a foetal blood sample should have been taken. This would have showed whether the baby was receiving sufficient oxygen. No such sample was taken. Later, the mother’s waters were broken and meconium (faeces of the baby) was seen. This can be evidence of a distressed baby. By 06.25 the baby’s heart rate was so concerning action should have been taken. As it was a decision to deliver by caesarean section was taken too late and when born it was found the baby had suffered a prolonged period without sufficient oxygen. This caused brain damage with the outcome the child has physical and cognitive disabilities. The claim was settled in a seven-figure sum and annual payments to ensure the child receives the care and support required for the rest of their life.

If you believe that you or your child have suffered an injury during pregnancy or childbirth, we can assist with a claim for compensation.

Contact us on 01603 660 811.

The NHS Resolution report can be viewed in full here.

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