CLAIMS arising from maternity units continue to be the single most costly type of litigation in the NHS according to a new report from the NHS Litigation Authority, which manages legal claims made against the health service in England.
The report presents the findings of a project which analysed 10 years of NHS maternity claims from 2000 to 2010 and included 5,087 cases with a total value of £3.1 billion. This represented less than 0.1 per cent of the 5.5 million births occurring in that period.
Three types of cases accounted for 70 per cent of the total value: claims arising from mistakes in cardiotocograph (CTG) interpretation, claims arising from mistakes in the management of labour and cases in which babies suffered cerebral palsy. There were 542 claims for cerebral palsy with a total value of paid and outstanding payments of £1.3 billion. This figure reflects the lifelong cost of future treatment and care.
The report found that cases often involved junior doctors and inexperienced midwives left to manage labour without adequate assistance from senior clinicians. Having more senior staff available during labour together with a better understanding among junior staff about when to ask them for help may prevent harm. The report also found that effective multi-disciplinary team working is essential for safe maternity care.
NHS LA Chief Executive Catherine Dixon said: "Having a baby while under the care of NHS doctors and midwives remains very safe. Out of 5.5 million births in England during the decade covered by the report, about one in a thousand result in a legal claim against the NHS.
"However, because maternity claims are so serious as they involve harm to mothers and their babies, it’s vital that we learn and share lessons from them so that professionals can improve their clinical practice in the future and prevent harm. That’s what our report aims to do."
NHS LA will work closely with the Department of Health and other professional bodies and organisations in the coming months to share the lessons from the report with NHS clinicians across the country. The report also includes a series of information sheets designed to help clinicians raise the standard of maternity care in a range of specific risk areas. The information sheets are also available separately on the NHSLA website.