The birth of a child should be a happy event but, on occasion, things do go wrong and we are regularly asked to help parents pursue a claim following the sad stillbirth, neonatal death or injury of their child because of avoidable peri-natal events.
The Government’s recent announcement that it plans to take steps to improve the safety of NHS maternity care is, therefore, most welcome. The Department of Health’s Safer Maternity Care document [safer maternity care action plan] notes that the stillbirth rate in the UK is unacceptably high, with the Lancet Stillbirth Series, published in January 2016, ranking the UK as 24th out of 49 high-income countries, on the basis of its stillbirth rates.
In November 2015, the national maternity ambition was launched with a stated aim to halve the rate of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and brain injuries that occur during or soon after birth by 2030, with an expected reduction of 20% by 2020.
The Department of Health hopes to achieve these reductions by focusing on leadership for maternity systems at every level, with national and local Maternity Safety Champions; learning and best practice, with the local implementation of published best practice initiatives and with trusts being able to apply for a share of an £8 million Maternity Safety Training Fund; teams, by promoting effective multi-professional team working; data collection and analysis, to concentrate on prevention and quality; and innovation, with individuals and organisations being able to apply for a share of a new £250,000 Maternity Safety Innovation Fund, if they have ideas to improve maternity care in a pioneering way.
As part of the plan, there are to be maternity ratings for every clinical commissioning group across the NHS; a new National Quality Improvement Programme for all trusts and the launch of the ‘Our Chance’ campaign, which will be targeted towards pregnant women and their families to raise awareness of the symptoms that can lead to stillbirth.
The Department of Health has indicated that it intends to consult on a voluntary rapid resolution and redress (RRR) compensation scheme to cover cases where babies have suffered avoidable harm during delivery or shortly afterwards, to provide financial support outside the formal legal process. It is concerned that the current legal process prevents openness and transparency.
Reference is made to the time taken to pursue a legal claim for financial support. We agree that claims for compensation take time to pursue but this relates to a number of issues, including the time required to obtain expert input; the time needed by a defendant to respond to a claim; the time taken to pursue matters through the courts, if necessary, and, in some cases, the point at which a clear view can be provided in relation to a child’s long term prognosis and needs. Some of these issues will remain whatever scheme is proposed but, until a consultation has been launched in relation to the potential RRR scheme and there is a clearer idea as to how this could work, it is not possible to comment on this proposal further. Clearly anything that reduces the time frame for an injured person to access the financial support they need is to be welcomed as long as, ultimately, they are able to access fully an appropriate level of care and case management; therapy; aids and equipment; housing and other input which is necessary given the injuries they have sustained.
If you are unhappy about the standard of maternity care you, or someone you know, has received and harm has resulted, please contact us to discuss matters further.