NHSLA to set aside over £200 million for injuries to new born babies
Official figures have revealed that the NHS Litigation Authority will set aside over £200 million to address the claims that have been presented on behalf of babies who have sustained an injury as a result a failure of staff to recognise low blood sugar levels. These children have sustained brain damage, and in two cases, the children died, it has been reported by the Guardian newspaper.
The NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) figures were obtained by the Guardian and show that in England in the past ten years, it has received 79 claims for damages of harm to babies relating to undetected or untreated hypoglycaemia.
Damages of between £300,000, and more than £7m in 19 cases has already been paid. The Litigation Authority is currently defending 41 other similar actions.
Neonatal hypoglycaemia (where the blood sugar level is very low) is a rare complication of childbirth affecting between one and three of every 1,000 babies. If this condition is left untreated it can have devastating consequences.
In March 2011, the family of Louis Peers received a settlement worth more than £7m after they claimed that midwives at Birmingham Heartlands hospital failed to intervene for the first three days of Louis’ life, even though he was not feeding, a classic sign that a more serious problem was beginning.
The £200 million set aside is the NHSLA's estimate of the total cost of settling the 60 claims, including damages and legal fees. Of that, £69.3m has been spent on the 19 cases which have been concluded and the other £166.1m is the potential cost of settling the other 41 cases. The figure is likely to rise once annual sums to cover damaged babies' lifelong care needs have been made.
Better monitoring of babies blood sugar level is needed
These cases underline the fact that midwives and doctors need to be better in monitoring babies' feeding and blood sugar level just after birth.
Peter Walsh, chief executive of the patient safety group Action Against Medical Accidents, has said: "Whilst these cases are relatively small in number, the fact the effects are so catastrophic and they are so preventable should make them a 'never' event in the NHS. It's absolutely essential the NHS stops these kinds of accidents happening.
"The NHS should ensure the lessons from these cases are learned and midwives are properly trained and there are enough midwives and consultants on duty to ensure babies are monitored … The human cost of these cases is incalculable."
While midwives can make mistakes, the NHS's shortage of midwives is "the biggest factor in these recurring problems of undiagnosed hypoglycaemia," he added.
This is also further evidence that maternity staff need more support and training to help them spot the warning signs that a baby is becoming hypoglycaemic.
Professor Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives,speaking to the Guardian said: "Hypoglycaemia is something that in the majority of cases we should be detecting and preventing." New mothers should be educated so they can spot the signs of it developing, and be able to see a midwife any time they need to, when they are still in hospital or back at home, to ensure the condition is spotted and treated quickly, she said.
A shortage of midwives may be a factor, Warwick added. "It's incredibly important that women are getting enough care in the postnatal period to ensure they have the information they need and that babies are getting screened and seeing midwives enough to pick up these problems, and that women are getting enough support with breastfeeding", she said.
Julie Marsh, expert neonatal negligence claim lawyer at Boyes Turner, commented on the news: "It is a sad fact that a shortage of midwives and a lack of training and awareness to this issue can have devastating consequences for families who should be celebrating the happiest time in their lives. Where there are failures in care, these should be fully investigated to ensure that lessons are learned by all involved to prevent mistakes happening again."
If you or a member of your family have suffered as a result of undiagnosed or untreated hypoglycaemia then get in contact with our expert claim lawyers now on 0800 834 252 or email email@example.com.
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