When joy turns to tragedy, parents deserve to know the truth

15th October 2015

When joy turns to tragedy, parents deserve to know the truth

Romantic portrait of sleeping little angel

The birth of a baby should be a time of happiness and celebration. Sadly, though, for some families the anticipated joy of a new arrival can quickly turn to grief.

According to NHS figures, 1,300 babies died or were injured during birth in the UK in 2014, while another 1,000 were stillborn.

Research shows that in most cases these incidents were caused by the failure of midwives and doctors to adequately monitor a baby’s heart rate during labour, thus starving them of oxygen during the birth process.

The result of these failings has been an increasing volume of clinical negligence claims involving brain-injured, disabled and stillborn babies.

A recent study carried out by the University of Leicester discovered a failure nationally to ensure both proper monitoring of foetal growth during pregnancy and a baby’s heart rate during the critical period leading up to and during birth.

Researchers recommended that hospital trusts should be required to carry out a full inquiry after such an incident with an independent reviewer.

For any parent coming to terms with the pain of losing a new-born – or the realisation that their infant has been injured or left with a disability – the ordeal is made even worse by the failure of a hospital trust to explain what has happened, to review the causes of the tragedy and to offer reassurance that lessons have been learned.

Clinicians should always tell patients when things have gone wrong, to apologise and to try and put things right. This is in addition to their ethical requirement to be open and honest, and the more recent statutory duty of candour, which came into effect in 2014. Under the duty, NHS Trusts are required to advise patients of notable safety incidents including those which, in the opinion of a Health Care Professional, could result in significant harm.

The scope of the duty of candour was extended in April of this year to cover private care as well.

For the family of a child who has suffered injury at birth, the duty of candour could have a very significant bearing.

For example, in the case of an infant who has suffered a period of oxygen starvation (hypoxia) during birth in an NHS hospital, the family should be informed that the event could result in significant harm. In those circumstances, should the child fail to meet the expected developmental milestones as he or she grows up, the family would be able to take that information into account when considering what action to take.

However the family of a baby delivered in a private hospital in similar circumstances could be left unaware that there had been any such problem, meaning they wouldn’t know the possible reasons behind the child’s stunted development. It may be they endure a delay of several years before establishing the truth of what actually happened.

If you or any member of your family have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact Chris Moffat of the Medical Negligence Dept on 01473 298189 who would be happy to discuss your case to see how she may be able to help.

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