BBC report indicates worrying rate of medical birth mistakes

3 Min Read

The BBC has today seen documents which highlight a worrying number of incidents reported by staff in maternity units between April 2015 and March 2017. Over 267,000 incidents were reported, which suggests an equivalent of one mistake for every five births.

Thankfully, most of these were minor mistakes or near misses but sadly, a quarter of the occurrences apparently led to mother or baby being harmed or, in 288 cases, a death. 479 of the reports involved severe harm, such as permanent disability. These kinds of birth injury can result in cerebral palsy ,or other life-changing trauma.

As there is no comparative data, it is difficult to know whether or not this is a worrying trend. The incidents were reported as part of a voluntary NHS Improvement scheme, which encourages staff to take part if they have concerns about care. If we are truly to improve maternity care then staff must be able to highlight areas of concern and should be applauded for doing so.

Recent news has highlighted many large scale incidences of staff concerns going unreported or not being acted upon, leading to widespread failures in care, such as in Mid Staffs or Morecambe Bay maternity units, or allowing questionable medical practice by individuals, such as disgraced breast surgeon Ian Paterson.

There has been a considerable focus on maternity care in recent months with reports such as MBRRACE and Each Baby Counts. Bernadette McGhie, a former paediatric nurse, acts for many clients who have suffered injury during the course of birth, either resulting in maternal damage or baby brain hypoxia leading to injuries such as cerebral palsy.

In addition, Bernadette is a member of the Baby Lifeline multi-professional advisory panel and contributes to Baby Lifeline training with colleagues, Mike Bird and Jackie Linehan. Bernadette believes that as part of that training, it is essential for midwives to feel able to raise their concerns about shortfalls in care and to escalate those concerns appropriately in order to protect the mothers and babies in their charge.

Bernadette says: “Jeremy Hunt has indicated a genuine desire to improve maternity care by learning from mistakes and I really hope that that comes to fruition. So often in the past it has been suggested that lessons will be learnt but sadly this data suggests that is not so. It would be useful to compare these figures with those for the next two years when hopefully failures resulting in harm to mothers and babies will have reduced”.