Legal Eagle: Lessons must be learnt in maternity negligence

Hospital.
Hospital.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced that the NHS in England must do better at learning from mistakes to cut the number of baby deaths and injuries in childbirth in the UK.

He has pledged that the NHS will learn from its mistakes and has confirmed that a new voluntary compensation scheme for maternity negligence claims should be in place from April 2019.

He believes the new scheme will create a culture where NHS staff can be more open to talking about and learning from their mistakes. Under the new scheme, parents could join a voluntary “rapid resolution and redress” scheme.

All unexplained cases of serious harm or death will be independently investigated. Currently it is up to the local hospitals to investigate cases or for the parents to bring clinical negligence claims.

The Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch will make the assessments where errors have occurred, their findings will be presented to a panel of legal and medical experts who then will make the decision as to whether compensation is warranted and arrange for payments to be made.

Mr Hunt hopes that the new scheme would help the NHS learn from mistakes as part of the drive to halve the current rate of stillbirths, deaths and brain injuries by 2025.

The scheme will be designed and the details refined of how the scheme will work over the coming months and will aim to improve safety and patients’ experience and will also reduce NHS costs.

We have, however, heard these promises before when the NHS Litigation Authority was first set up and lessons have not been learned. We have seen incidents of staff advising clients who come to us that something was not right but then the NHS go on to deny and defend the claim.

It is extremely important that the details of the scheme are correct and the right levels of support are put in place for the staff who come forward.

This issue has not been addressed and leaves uncertainty. If staff are not given the correct levels of support then the scheme will fail to deliver what Mr Hunt has promised.

It is questionable whether the new proposal is one simply focused on cutting NHS costs. Whilst early investigations, apologies and shared learning can be supported, it appears that the proposed approach is to pay 90% of an average court settlement and inadequate interim payments so the question is, does this demonstrate a lack of understanding of the needs of the children who have been injured?

Ben Hoare Bell LLP has a team of specialist Clinical Negligence solicitors. To speak to a solicitor please phone 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk. Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk for more information.