The Cost of Maternity Mistakes

Ultrasound image of a baby

It’s being reported today that the cost to the NHS for maternity legal action is nearly twice the amount spent on maternity doctors.

In an article written for The Mail, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighted the fact that if England and Wales had the same neonatal death rate as Sweden a thousand fewer babies would die every year.

Whilst the number of obstetric claims is relatively low compared to the number of babies born every day the cost to the NHS is significant. When the delivery of a baby goes wrong it can result in a lack of oxygen to the brain, causing lifelong physical, and sometimes cognitive, damage. These injuries can leave children in need of lifelong care, specialist equipment, therapies and adapted housing.

As a result, the families of children with birth injuries can find themselves struggling to cope with the far greater level of care that they require. The cost of meeting these needs can be millions of pounds.

With patient safety put first, there is a better chance for mistakes during birth to be avoided. If there are less families who need to make a claim so they can afford to care for their child, significant sums of money will be saved by the NHS. So how can the NHS make this happen?

How to improve maternity patient safety

Organisations like PROMPT (Practical obstetric Multi-Professional Training) recognise that focused training is key. In 2006 a team at Southmead Hospital in Bristol evaluated the effect of local obstetric training. They discovered that the training not only improved knowledge and teamworking but there was a 50% reduction in babies suffering from injuries due to lack of oxygen at birth and 70% reduction in injuries following shoulder dystocia (a time condition where delivery of the baby is delayed by the baby’s shoulder becoming stuck).

Is anyone trying to improve maternity care?

The Health and Social Care Select Committee, which is being chaired by Hunt, has announced that it will hold an inquiry into why maternity incidents keep re-occurring and what needs to be done to improve safety. The investigation will build on findings at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, East Kent Hospitals University Trust and the inquiry into University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, all of whom have had widely-publicised problems with the standard of maternity care they offer.

The charity Baby Lifeline has been pressing the current health secretary, Matt Hancock, to reinstate the Maternity Safety Training Fund to increase training for NHS midwives and doctors which was withdrawn after one year. The Fund, which was introduced in 2016 was a one-off investment in maternity care following recommendations from a government safety action plan. The money was used to implement training packages which were well received and evaluation showed it to have increased staff knowledge and improved patient safety.

The inquiry is intended to look at how effective and safe our maternity services are, what is done well and how to improve to provide the safest and highest quality maternity care in the world.

The Royal College of Obstetricians support the inquiry, recognising that it is important to learn from mistakes, improve services and support women and their families who have suffered.

Ultimately, everyone has the same goal. Improve patient safety, train staff to improve knowledge and teamwork, avoid unnecessary harm and save the NHS money.

Expert birth injury solicitors

If your child was injured during birth and you’ve got questions about what went wrong, our team of specialist lawyers can help. Contact us today to find out more.

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