New birth injuries compensation scheme to tackle ‘blame culture’

  • Date: 21 October 2016

A NEW voluntary compensation scheme to quickly resolve birth injury complaints in England could cut the number of claims brought to court and tackle the NHS "blame culture".

The Department of Health is to launch a consultation on a new rapid resolution and redress (RRR) scheme which could investigate and learn lessons from more than 500 incidents a year.

Families whose child suffered an avoidable birth injury would be able to choose whether or not to use the RRR approach. It offers "support and regular payments" without the need to launch a formal legal process and promises personalised help including counselling, case management and legal advice.

Under the scheme, clinicians would also be able to speak openly about care failings without fear of what they disclose being used against them in court or professional misconduct hearings.

The new approach is part of the government’s ambition to halve neonatal death, stillbirth, maternal death and brain injuries by 2030. A similar rapid resolution scheme in Sweden has helped reduce serious avoidable birth injuries by around 50 per cent in the past six to seven years.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled a package of measures designed to dramatically improve the safety of NHS maternity care and reduce costs. The NHS spent more than £500 million last year on resolving legal disputes over alleged maternity care failings. At present, the average time families have to wait for resolution of a case is 11.5 years.

The new measures include:

  • £8 million for maternity safety training
  • A £250,000 maternity safety innovation fund
  • Publication of maternity ratings for every NHS clinical commissioning group (CCG)
  • New Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, modelled on the Air Accident Investigation Branch, to be up and running from April 2017.

Jeremy Hunt said: “Our NHS maternity staff do a fantastic job under huge pressure. But even though we have made much progress, our stillbirth rates are still amongst the highest in Western Europe and many on the frontline say there is still too much of a blame culture when things go wrong - often caused by fear of litigation or worry about damage to reputation and careers.

“These comprehensive measures will give practical support to help trusts improve their approach to safety – and help to foster an open and transparent culture so that the courts become a last resort not an automatic first step.”

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