Maternal Death in Childbirth and Why it Still Happens
With advances in healthcare it seems surprising that women still die in childbirth in the UK. It is important that we understand more about how these deaths occur and what steps can be taken to prevent them. It is tragic that simple and avoidable errors can cause so much harm. We need to learn from past mistakes to avoid more tragic errors in the future.
An independent report in 2011 concluded that an alarming number of women were still dying in childbirth. 11 women per 100,000 die in childbirth in the UK. The highest rates were in London.
I have sadly recently acted in 3 cases where pregnant women have suffered avoidable deaths, one as a result of sudden and poorly controlled bleeding (post-partum haemorrhage) and 2 from sepsis.
Recent maternal death legal cases
In one of my cases a young mother bled to death following mistakes by both obstetricians and anaesthetists:
- The doctors grossly underestimated quite how much blood she had lost.
- They failed to give her enough replacement blood even though it was available.
- They then brought her round from surgery too quickly.
When they sat her up, her blood levels were so low that she suffered an immediate heart attack and died.
In the other cases the women suffered infections either from tissue which had been left behind after childbirth or from an unusual condition where the bowel develops a hole after a Caesarian section. In both these cases staff failed to notice quite how ill the women were becoming until it was too late to treat them effectively.
Human error in maternal death
In all these cases there was simple human error. In the sepsis cases staff failed to use ‘early warning scoring systems’ which are an easy way of alerting them to the fact that their patients were getting worse. It can be difficult to understand how these mistakes happen. My impression is that sometimes people simply accept what others have said and fail to ask their own questions – what some people call ‘groupthink’.
Sometimes low staffing levels contribute and there is research to suggest that more money spent on senior midwives and obstetricians would save the health service costs elsewhere, not least in avoiding large payments in damages for people who have suffered loss from avoidable medical mistakes. Aside from the human tragedy these mistakes cause there is an economic case for better staffing levels.
Get in touch
Paul Sankey is a clinical and medical negligence solicitor at Enable Law in Bristol. Enable Law offers a free consultation for anyone wishing to consider a claim for damages. Call us on
0800 044 8488 for expert advice at no cost to you.