Often, the media focuses on the financial worth of clinical negligence claims. Although this is important, we should not forget that there is someone at the centre of each claim that is investigated, and a personal story behind the figures. This article focuses on Emily, a former client of Penningtons Manches Cooper, who made a clinical negligence claim in relation to the stillbirth of her son, Joshua.
Emily sadly lost Joshua in 2016 and wanted to investigate a clinical negligence claim as she felt that there may have been problems with her care. After expert evidence was obtained, we alleged that there were several failings in her treatment during the last month of her pregnancy, and that without these failings, Joshua would have survived. Because of her loss, Emily sustained psychiatric injuries, which held back her career and affected her family, as well as her future plans.
The defendant NHS trust denied liability and court proceedings were issued but, after negotiations, a settlement was reached, and Emily received compensation. Although no formal admissions of liability were made, Emily and her husband also received a letter of apology from the trust.
Over a year after Emily’s claim settled, we contacted her to ask how she felt about making a clinical negligence claim. She said: “The emotional journey through the claim was difficult but it felt like a new chapter began after it settled. Although it was a hard process, it gave me more of a voice to talk about what went wrong and the lessons I learnt. One of the most important outcomes from the claim was the recognition that what happened to me was not right. Before that, it felt like no one was listening.”
Emily said she initially suffered some guilt for wanting to investigate a claim against the hospital. “I felt bad for pointing out the problems in my care. It’s important for me to say that I don’t think everyone in the hospital is bad, it’s just that they lost their way when they were treating me. I wanted to help them find their way back. Ultimately, I was trying to bring about change.”
When she first lost her son, Emily could not see that anything good could ever come from it, but she was determined to turn her loss into something positive. She now speaks openly about her experiences, with the hope of helping other families, and says: “Around the anniversary of Joshua’s death this year, I used social media to tell the story of what happened. I wasn’t doing this to blame anyone but to educate others, especially if they are pregnant, as to what to look out for. Many people messaged me to say that they had learnt from it.”
After her loss, Emily also volunteered as a ‘befriender’ for SANDS, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity. In this role she uses her first-hand experience to support other bereaved families and returns to the hospital where Joshua died regularly. “I attend the hospital every week and run a clinic at the hospital using my training as a SANDS befriender. I sit with two families an evening and they talk through with me how they feel about their loss.” Emily also volunteers to attend midwife training at the hospital with the bereavement midwife and will soon be giving her first talk to practising midwives to help train them in bereavement care.
Emily says: “Returning to the same hospital was initially difficult, but I gave birth to my second child there, and I did feel that lessons had been learnt from Joshua’s death and had a positive experience the second time. I think there is a power in me being at the hospital regularly. Everyone there knows what happened to me and I am a living reminder that I hope makes the staff consider their practice and the consequences when care falls short. I don’t hold a grudge, but the midwives seeing me every week will hopefully remind them not to ever make the same mistakes again.”
Emily’s compensation has mainly been put towards providing opportunities for her second child. She says: “My career plans were changed by the mental health consequences of losing Joshua. My husband and I wanted to use some of the compensation for the things we would have done as a family if my career had gone the way it should. I also wanted to provide my son with the experiences his brother couldn’t have.”
Part of her damages were put towards commissioning a mural which was painted outside the bereavement suite at the hospital. The mural depicts a tree, and each leaf has a baby’s name. Joshua’s name is on the trunk, and he has a leaf as well. “As soon as we had the compensation, I wanted to do something lasting. The hallway by the bereavement suite is where families have to sit and wait, so I wanted something there that might provide some comfort. It is also a cut through corridor, so the midwives constantly walk through. Now, every time they use the corridor, they are reminded that the bereavement suite is right there. I have noticed people taking more time, being quieter, and stopping to look at the babies’ names.”
Emily ran the London Marathon in October 2022 and raised nearly £3,000 for SANDS. She says that this is something she never would have been able to do before her loss. She started running to help her cope with the mental health consequences of losing Joshua and says that when she exercises, she feels that this is her time to spend with her son. She is also starting an evening course to train to be a counsellor. “I was worried initially that this would set me back, psychologically, but I was told that the best counsellors have been through difficult times themselves so actually I think it will be beneficial. It is through helping others that I feel like I become Joshua’s mum again.”