BBC investigations show the need for the NHS to accept liability following the deaths of new-borns

Anyone watching BBC Breakfast or listening to a BBC radio station this morning will no doubt have heard the results of the corporation’s investigation into East Kent NHS Foundation Trust where, according to the BBC, at least seven preventable baby deaths may have occurred since 2016.

The issues

As the BBC notes, the trust’s extended perinatal mortality rate, the total of stillbirths and the number of babies who died within 28 days of being born, was consistently higher than the UK average for every year between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, the last year for which figures are available, it was the highest in the country of trusts offering comparable maternity services.

It is no surprise then that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) put the entire trust into Special Measures following an inspection in 2014 which rated the level of care as ‘Inadequate’. CQC inspections since have then rated the level of care as ‘Requires Improvement’.

There are a number of things in the BBC’s investigation that we find very troubling. For example, one child, Archie Powell, died after staff at the Trust failed to spot that he was suffering from what is a very common infection in new-borns, Group B Streptococcus.

Most concerning for us when we read the BBC’s report is the long list of issues the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists raised after the Trust’s medical director asked them to review maternity care in 2015. In particular, one of the review’s conclusions was that that the Trust’s consultants were “doing their own thing rather than follow[ing] guidelines”. Furthermore, the staff told the review they felt that “maternity services were not a priority at Board level” and that “there was little point in raising concerns as no action would be taken by the trust”. We find this astounding – given the Trust’s infant mortality rate, dealing with these issues should absolutely have been the Trust’s highest priority from top to bottom.

Issues with new-born deaths elsewhere

Unfortunately, these are issues that aren’t isolated to East Kent. You may remember last year that an independent review started into more than 800 allegations of poor care by The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, many of which centred around the death of a mother or new-born child, which we wrote about at the time.

In addition, in a story about the potential cost of the clinical negligence claims the NHS currently has against it earlier this week, the BBC highlighted the case of Hayden Nguyen, who died six days after being born at The Royal Chelsea Hospital of heart failure after it was attacked by a virus.

Hayden’s parents ended up taking legal action, as they didn’t know what had happened to him and felt they had been met with a “wall of silence” from the hospital.

Our view

One of the most striking things for us is that affected patients and the families of those who have sadly passed away do not seem to be able to get answers from the NHS when something goes wrong.

This lack of communication, or “wall of silence”, which arguably also erodes trust in the NHS too, may be one of the reasons why there are so many outstanding and ongoing cases against the NHS. For example, after three years the trust that runs The Royal Chelsea Hospital admitted liability for failing to adequately treat Hayden’s condition and his parents received a small amount of compensation with their legal fees being met by the trust. As Mr Nguyen notes, the reason he and his wife took action against the NHS is because they were faced with silence from the hospital following their son’s death and wanted answers. Clearly then, if The Royal Chelsea’s staff had been more open with Hayden’s parents, it could have saved a lot of money and, more importantly, it would have saved his parents a lot of hurt as they would have had more time to properly grieve for their son.

This situation where the legal representatives acting for NHS Resolution, the body which oversees clinical negligence claims against the NHS, refuse to admit liability and, frankly, drag the case out in the hope that the claimant will drop their case happens all too often in the experience of us and the legal firms we work with too. Refusing to accept liability can also often strengthen the bereaved parent’s resolve to get answers as well.

We would suggest then that, if the NHS was more open and transparent when things do go wrong, not only would it hopefully help to resolve these matters in a swifter fashion and help to give those affected some peace and closure over what are clearly traumatic matters, but it would also restore some trust in an institution we should all be proud of and may also help to reduce the size of this prospective legal bill too.

How we can help

The Medical Negligence Experts work with specialist legal firms that unfortunately have a lot of experience in handling new-born death cases. While it can never replace your child, this mean they are in the best possible position to help you get the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to.

If you have sadly lost a new-born, have concerns about the standard of medical care your child received and would like some advice to see if you may have a claim, do not hesitate to contact The Medical Negligence Experts via the contact form on our website or by calling 0161 413 8761.