Babies with cerebral palsy: Number of claims increases
The number of claims for babies suffering cerebral palsy at birth has risen. Claims against maternity units increased to 232 in 2016/17 from 188 in the previous year, up 23%. The value of those claims was nearly £2bn.
Although only 10% of claims against the NHS involve childbirth, they represent almost half the damages paid out. They are therefore among the most costly medical negligence claims.
What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain. It is sometimes due to the brain being starved of oxygen at birth. It is a movement disorder. Babies with cerebral palsy often have stiff and weak muscles, and some have problems with speaking, hearing and sight. They may have seizures. Many have problems developing thinking and reasoning.
Cerebral palsy: Why are damages so high?
These claims are so high in value because of the very serious nature of these injuries and the fact that they are life-long.
The costs of supporting children and adults with cerebral palsy are very high. They may need full-time care, equipment to help cope with the difficulties of daily life and suitable accommodation. And these costs are incurred over a lifetime.
Cerebral palsy: Claims for damages
Where babies develop cerebral palsy as a result of avoidable medical accidents they may be entitled to claim damages to meet these costs. These are, however, very complex claims. They involve expensive expert evidence often from specialists in many disciplines. Because the costs to children and adults with cerebral palsy are so high, awards of damages can amount to several million pounds. NHS Resolution, which handles claims for the NHS, says that the cost of paying for these needs could soon reach £20m per child.
Cerebral palsy: Tegan’s story
Tegan, who suffered brain damage at birth and was left with cerebral palsy, had a cartoon made to explain to her friends why she is different and you can see it at here.
Cerebral palsy: changing the law?
In its recent annual report, NHS Resolution says the costs of meeting these children’s needs will continue to rise and that these rises are ‘unavoidable without significant law reform’. But the answer is not to change the law so children like Tegan are left without enough support. All that will do is throw a greater burden on the most needy people and their families. It will do nothing to tackle the root cause. A better answer is to improve maternity services. That way fewer children suffer avoidable brain injuries. That is not to say they are now doing a bad job now. But there are things that can be done to help them do better.
Cerebral palsy: improving care
So how can that be done? NHS Resolution is starting to gather information about incidents early and use it to learn lessons from past mistakes. It is reviewing all cerebral palsy claims over the last 5 years to see what can be learned from them and it is working with some hospital trusts to improve standards.
The Chief Executive of NHS Resolution says, ‘These incidents can have a devastating impact on those involved and we must do everything we can to learn from what happened.’ She is quite right.
Another answer is better funding for maternity units, in particular to increase the number of obstetricians. This would be a much more effective way of spending NHS money than having to pay damages and it would avoid the human cost of damaged lives.
Claims for damages: getting the right help
Claims for babies who suffer brain injuries are complex. It is important to have the right help. Enable Law’s specialist solicitors are accredited experts in handling these kinds of difficult and important claims. Call us today for a free, confidential discussion on 08000 448 488, or complete our enquiry form here.