The ongoing news about the tragedies which have arisen due to preventable failures at the maternity unit at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust highlight the fact that lessons still clearly need to be learned and improvements made for the future.
Of greatest concern is the fact that the same basic errors seem to be repeated again and again. Among the more frequent causes of injury to mothers and their babies is the inability of staff to operate or correctly interpret the results of cardiotocography (CTG) equipment, which monitors the baby’s heart rate during labour.
If the CTG trace is monitored properly and any abnormalities picked up (and junior and senior staff quickly agree the appropriate course of action) at-risk babies could be delivered sooner by caesarean section if necessary.
Delays in delivery can lead to brain injury or the baby’s death as occurred numerous times at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust. Depressingly, the same circumstances surrounded the birth of James Robshaw in Lincoln County hospital in 2002.
Although his heart was monitored, midwives either ignored or could not interpret the CTG trace correctly and recognise that James was in distress. The additional failure to carry out a timely caesarean section meant there was a delay in delivering James who consequently suffered severe brain damage and now suffers from cerebral palsy.
Denise Stephens, a partner and member of the specialist Shoosmiths clinical negligence team, achieved one of the highest court awards at that time for compensation in a cerebral palsy claim for James, achieving a damages award at trial of £14.6 million. Just like the patients at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust, as a consequence of his mother’s mismanaged labour James’s injuries left him with life changing and lifelong disabilities.
Finding out how and why these events occurred is imperative. Shoosmiths welcomes the inquiry that the Department of Health has launched into what had been happening at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust so that lessons can be learned and improvements made for the future.
That will come as no comfort to the many individuals left suffering as a consequence of what has already occurred at the Trust and they need specialist help and advice to get the answers they need to move forward. They also need compensation to fund the intensive care and support needed to ensure that they can lead as fulfilled and normal a life as possible.
Shoosmiths has a wealth of experience in dealing with brain injury claims of maximum severity arising from clinical negligence. The team includes seven lawyers who are members of the Law Society Clinical Negligence Panel as well as four others accredited by Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA). The 12 most senior solicitors in the specialist team have over 260 years of experience between them.
We believe that empathy, experience and shared specialist knowledge gets the best results for those who have suffered from this particular example of clinical negligence. Sadly, that experience seems to be repeatedly called upon in a number of albeit relatively rare but still entirely unacceptable cases where the same basic errors seem to be made again and again. Errors that modest sums spent on improving training might mean that families could be spared heartache, grief and devastating loss.
Sarah Corser - Senior Associate in Medical Negligence at Shoosmiths
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