Michelmores Supports the NAO Report on Obstetric Clinical Negligence

Government criticised over maternity figures

A National Audit Office report paints a damning picture of UK maternity care

Despite acknowledging some improvements since inception of the strategy prepared by the Department of Health in 2007, the report is concerned at significant and unexplained 'variations in performance across the country in terms of quality and safety'. It questions the government's failure, both to consider whether meeting the strategy's standards might be achievable, and to monitor the national progress of maternity care.

The NAO report highlights sobering statistics. In 2011, 1 in 133 babies was stillborn or died within several days of birth. At the same time, health minister Dan Poulter continues to claim that the UK is the 'one of the safest places to give birth'. The report also shows that a fifth of the maternity budget is spent on insurance (£700 per live birth), and it is difficult not to assume a link with the acknowledged national shortage of midwives - around 2300, the report suggests.

Louise Silverton, the director for midwifery at The Royal College of Midwives, has voiced her unease: 'the proportion of the maternity budget which is spent on the pooled insurance scheme is a major concern for us'.

Lessons must be learned

At Michelmores, we deal with so many obstetric cases where damage should and could have been avoided had there been adequate staff who were properly trained and supported. The government should look to ensure that, in each hospital, there are sufficient experienced midwives available to provide a safe maternity service, where problems are anticipated and prevented.

Obstetric claims have risen by an alarming 80% in the last five years. Far too many parents are left with the grief of losing a baby or coping with a much-loved child who has permanent disabilities, and the crushing knowledge that it could have been prevented.

But our experience suggests that obstetric negligence cannot just be attributed to lack of available midwives and consultants. Medical staff need to take responsibility - stepping in and acting in situations where a colleague's performance falls below an acceptable standard, instead of taking a passive role and waiting for a claim to be made. NHS Trusts need to foster a climate where medical staff feel empowered to take control within acceptable boundaries.

Bernadette McGhie is a birth injury specialist, with a history of success representing injured children and their families in complex, high-value claims.

If you would like to discuss a claim relating to any of the issues discussed above, you can call Bernadette and the Michelmores Clinical Negligence team for free, for discreet, impartial advice.

Michelmores have a particular interest in birth injury and midwifery. You can read our article on Independent Midwives here.