Addressing fear culture in maternity services critical to preventing birth injuries in 2021

Baby Holding Its Parent Finger

The Morecambe Bay maternity scandal came to light in 2015. Sadly since then, three investigations have been launched into the care delivered in three NHS Trusts across England and Wales.

The coronavirus pandemic placed the NHS in the spotlight with a greater appreciation felt for our free national health service however, fear has been identified as a barrier to delivering patient safety in maternity units.

It has been reported by an independent panel reviewing maternity units across the NHS, that staff in some Trusts are frightened to report concerning issues.

Reportedly, a “cover up culture” exists, with some hospitals deliberately concealing information and failing in their obligations to report serious incidents.

As investigations continue into potentially avoidable baby deaths and significant birth injuries in Shrewsbury, South Wales and East Kent, transforming maternity services to facilitate an open and transparent culture is essential to learning from repeated mistakes.

Dysfunctional culture

Sadly, recent findings pointing to dysfunctional cultures within NHS maternity services is unsurprising to our team of birth injury experts.

Failing to deliver adequate (or not at all) Serious Incident Reports following a significant birth injury is an example that we repeatedly see when representing families failed by medical professionals.

Without a robust investigations process to uncover what went wrong, it is difficult, if not impossible, for medical staff to learn from mistakes to prevent a recurrence.

Poor communication, if at all, between maternity staff and a failure to escalate a matter to specialist and / or senior members of staff when a mother’s labour becomes difficult or complicated, is also sadly common in the cases we see involving a baby’s death or a serious birth injury.

Hospitals have a duty of care and that includes not only delivering safe care for mothers and babies, but also acknowledging when avoidable mistakes have been made, not only apologising to the family and explaining what went wrong, but also carefully reporting the errors so that key learnings can take place.

Birth injuries have a lifetime impact on families

When a baby is injured before, during, or just after birth, the consequences on the child, and their family, lasts a lifetime. The psychological and physical consequences are devastating and change lives permanently.

If staff continue to work in cultures that discourage anything less than honest and caring maternity services, avoidable baby deaths and serious birth injuries will continue hurting more families.

Families who lose much wanted babies suffer profoundly. For those whose baby is left with significant injuries the effects are equally devastating, affecting every area of their lives and altering their futures dramatically.

Mistakes are made in every profession. Some are unavoidable. In a maternity setting however, it is essential not only that staff carefully carry out their duties, which include the careful monitoring of mother and baby throughout pregnancy and birth, but that they also openly report serious incidents.

The absence of transparent scrutiny of the circumstances that have led to a baby losing its life or being born with irreversible, permanent, and lifelong injuries, means nothing will change.

Without full, and detailed, medical notes and a review of these following a serious incident, failings cannot be identified, training needs cannot be addressed, and expectant mothers cannot feel safe in the knowledge that they will be provided with adequate care.

It is at best disheartening to hear news of yet another maternity scandal. Different NHS Trust, largely similar incidents and failings, time and again.

Improving working relationships between medical staff, encouraging greater communication, implementing robust, regular training, thorough reporting processes and creating a culture free from fear is essential – and is needed now.

As the NHS continues to battle the ongoing threat of Covid-19, there is a greater awareness and desire to protect our health service.

Families whose child has suffered as a result of avoidable medical errors are entitled to compensation in order to meet their specialist care, equipment, and other support needs.

These claims run into £multi-million settlements as the needs of a child following a significant birth injury are complex and lifelong.

Investing in getting the right staff, with the right level of ongoing training, supported by a transparent working environment should, and can, protect more families from the profound trauma of a birth injury, and help to protect the NHS.

Recurring maternity failings

Common avoidable, and recurring, maternity related errors include failing to adequately monitor both mother and baby; failing to properly interpret scans and tests; failing to implement timely medical intervention and failing to escalate matters to a specialist in the team or more senior member of staff.

Until there is a genuine commitment at all levels to address these serious issues, we can anticipate that more and more maternity services will come under scrutiny, more baby deaths and serious birth injuries will be exposed, and more families will suffer the irreparable consequences.

As we enter a new year, 2021 should be a year for significant investment in the NHS to facilitate key learnings and culture change.

We are here to help

Our team of birth injury specialists have worked in this complex area of law for in excess of 25 years. We offer families legal representation working with leading independent medical experts and support, every step of the way, of what may be a challenging journey to justice.

We leave no stone unturned. We meticulously examine every detail in medical records. We are determined to uncover the truth. Giving families answers, securing justice, and providing some peace of mind.

As a team of parents, we understand what it means to suffer as a result of medical negligence. If you believe that your child suffered a preventable birth injury, we are here to listen, and to help.

Contact our empathetic team for a free initial consultation here.


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