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It is a sad fact that such a significant number of mothers and babies are being injured or are even dying as a result of avoidable errors in maternity care which could be prevented with more training. Baby Lifeline has been fighting for years to obtain government support to enable staff from maternity units to access training to improve standards. Their excellent new report Mind the Gap identifies the gaps in training and the areas they highlight come as no surprise to me given the repeated errors we see in clinical negligence cases.
For example, more training is needed in the interpretation of CTG traces which monitor a baby’s condition in the womb. The worst outcome from this is when a baby suffers a brain injury or dies because the trace has been misread. The human cost to families defies description. The families I speak to who have children with cerebral palsy talk of the life that has been taken from their child and also from them. The financial cost is also high: children with cerebral palsy require care and therapy for the rest of their lives.
Everyone is working towards the same goal: to reduce injuries, but very often the argument is tied up with implicit criticism of claimants and lawyers who bring clinical negligence claims. Without such claims, poor care would go unchecked, there would be no accountability, and there would be no hope of improving standards. Claimants should not be blamed for taking money out of the system: they are the victims of a lack of funding. It is also worth reminding ourselves that if local authority services were better funded, less money would be required through claims to fund the support that injured babies and children need.
Whilst I understand the need to refer to the multi million pound settlements for brain injured babies to draw attention to this issue, it is important for people to understand that these settlements are not a lottery win and, in the majority of cases, the money is paid out on an annual basis over a child’s lifetime. So the reference to say a '£35 million settlement' is misleading: some money is paid out initially to enable the family to address their immediate needs e.g. to put in place care, obtain adapted accommodation, equipment and/or therapy, and this is followed by annual payments to pay for care and case management for life, so the overall settlement figure is entirely depending on the child’s predicted life expectancy.
Gill Edwards is a member of the Multi-Professional Advisory Panel of the mother and baby charity Baby Lifeline. She is a Partner and clinical negligence solicitor with Potter Rees Dolan. Should you have any queries about clinical negligence issues, in particular birth injuries, and wish to speak with Gill or any other member of the team please contact us on 0161 237 5888.