Although the UK is one of the safest places to have a baby, mistakes do happen, and some women and babies experience birth injury. The current figures show that around one in every 100 births is problematic.
While some mistakes result in minor harm that has only short-term consequence, if any at all, birth injury can result in serious and long-term harm. To clarify, the term ‘birth injury’ describes physical harm that befalls a baby before, just after or during the birth.
There are several different causes of birth injury, which can lead to permanent damage. Some examples include:
- Foetal distress: this can be caused by a prolonged labour, and can cut off the baby’s blood supply, causing brain damage or even death.
- Hypoxia within the womb: commonly due to a malformed placenta or umbilical cord, reduced oxygen supply can lead to cerebral palsy. Currently 2 in every 1,000 births in the UK are affected by lack of oxygen.
- Brachial plexus damage: the brachial plexus is a bunch of nerves that control the hand and arm and can be permanently damaged during labour.
- Spinal cord damage: this can occur during delivery and result in paralysis below the level of the injury, or in the worst case, death.
- Bleeding within the skull: this increases pressure on the brain and may cause brain damage or death.
Clearly birth injuries can be devastating and the effects lifelong. Sometimes a birth injury arises due to medical negligence. Negligence occurs when a duty of care was owed to the child by a medical or nursing professional, and that duty of care is breached, resulting in the child suffering a birth injury.
Medical Negligence Resulting in Birth Injury
Negligence that results in stillbirths or long-term birth injuries are costing the UK’s health care system billions of pounds in compensation payments. Awards for brain damage due to negligence are usually around £3-£6 million while a stillbirth can result in payment to the parents of between £15,000 and £100,000 depending on if there is a claim for psychological injury. The current sums represent a bill of around £4.5 billion to the NHS over the past 10 years.
The fact that substantial harm can result from one person’s error can be devastating, and families would much rather that the injury never happened at all. For, we know that no money cannot compensate for that loss– in other words the human cost far outweighs the financial cost. But for a surviving child with serious injuries, the money paid will cover lifelong medical care, special adaptations as the child grows and personal needs change, and to compensate for the fact that the child will never be able to work.
Just as there are many different causes of birth injury, there are many different types of medical negligence leading to that injury. Below are some common examples of situations from which medical negligence readily arises:
- Staff shortages meaning that patients cannot receive proper care. This leads to a situation where junior staff are left alone to deal with cases for which they do not have adequate experience or training.
- Missing warning signs due to lack of time and being spread too thinly over too many patients.
- Downplaying risk, which leads to protocols not being followed. For example, not calling a doctor when the baby’s heartbeat trace becomes abnormal.
- Failing to monitor appropriately.
- Failing to move to caesarean section in a timely manner.
Real life birth injuries
It can often be easier to think about cases as opposed to broad categories of birth injury. Therefore, real-life examples can help clarify how birth injury can severely impact on a child and their family. So, here are some stories of children with permanent problems arising from birth injury.
In May this year, it was reported that a 12-year-old girl who suffered birth injuries that resulted in cerebral palsy, is to receive a significant payment in compensation. She was injured due to a lack of oxygen during her delivery, but if her birth had been managed properly, she would have not suffered brain damage. Instead, her mother was found to be suffering pre-eclampsia but was left on the labour ward for days, without the staff recognising the baby was in distress. All too late, the child was delivered by emergency caesarean section, but the damage was already done. A spokesman for the NHS Trust said, ‘We would like to express our sincere apologies. [We are] currently involved in a national programme to increase the safety of mums-to-be and their babies’.
In another case, a boy was left with a ‘catastrophic brain injury’ resulting in cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, epilepsy and problems swallowing. The High Court in London found that medical negligence during his delivery resulted in hypoxic brain injury. The child was awarded a lump sum of £4 million and additional annual costs for his care, including £110,000 a year until he turns 11-years-old, £175,000 until he turns 19 years old, and then £255,000 annually for the rest of his life.
Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy
In 2003, a baby suffered a severe brain injury during her birth, when she was starved of oxygen. As a result, she has quadriplegic cerebral palsy which affects her arms and her legs meaning that she is immobile. She also has problems with her eyesight and cannot safely control swallowing, meaning that she is fed through a tube. At the time of writing, there is no mention of any compensation pay-out.
Epilepsy and learning disabilities
A boy born in 2002 was left with severe disability including epilepsy and learning difficulties when his oxygen supply was compromised during birth. Initially his parents did not realise that anyone was to blame. Then, in 2016, the NHS hospital admitted failing to manage his mother’s labour properly, for if the boy had been delivered earlier by caesarean section, he would not have been harmed. Consequently, the now teenager was awarded £5 million which will be used to provide him with much-needed care for the rest of his life.
In another case, a baby suffered brain damage when his jaundice was left untreated. He was discharged from hospital before vital blood test results were known. The brain injury from the untreated jaundice, left him with cerebral palsy. Like the other cases above, if his condition was recognised and managed correctly, he would have been left with no permanent damage. He was awarded £6.5 million in compensation.
Sadly in the UK, 15 babies die before, during or shortly after birth. To be told that your baby is dead is a horrific scenario that can only be compounded by the fact that medical negligence was the cause, and if the birth had been managed correctly, you would be taking home a new baby. In one case of stillbirth that hit the news, the baby died because warning signs of foetal distress were ignored by attending staff, and in another case warning signs from a monitoring machine were considered an error.
Birth Injury – Claiming compensation
If you or a loved one has experienced the devastation of a birth injury, you may be entitled to claim compensation. While payment will not make up for the loss or harm, it could go some way to improving the quality of life of those affected. So, today, get in touch with our helpful team to find out if you too could claim. We are here to help. Call and ask for Stephanie Prior on 020 7485 8811 or complete our online form
Our Promise to You
- We will review your potential claim by advising you on the NHS complaints procedure or other alternative procedure if your case does not relate to NHS care and treatment.
- We will not charge a fee for our time in reviewing your case.
- We can assist you with any issues that you may have regarding the complaints procedure or that you encounter in obtaining copies of your medical records.
- We will advise you of the course of action in respect to your case.