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BBC investigation finds more than 1,400 mistakes a week recorded by NHS maternity units in England over four-year period

An investigation by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show has reported that over 1,400 mistakes a week on average were recorded by NHS England maternity units between 2013 and 2016.

Fetal heart monitor

9 May 2017

The investigation used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain figures from 81 out of the 132 NHS Trusts in England. The figure showed 305,019 adverse incidents recorded in maternity units over four years.
 
The adverse incidents are recorded when unexpected death, injury or harm has occurred.
 
Figures showed 259 avoidable or unexpected deaths of mothers or babies from 39 trusts from the same four-year period.
 
The BBC reported that the Department of Health declined to respond to the figures due to the pre-election purdah period but it said plans were in place to reduce the number of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries in babies by 50 percent by 2030.
 
Gemma Castrofilippo, solicitor in Leigh Day’s clinical negligence team, has represented a number of families in cases where mothers and babies have been injured or have died due to failings in maternity care.
 
In one such case the midwife caring for the mother during labour failed to diagnose and act upon a placental abruption – where the placenta partially or completely separates from the mother’s uterus, depriving the baby of oxygen and causing the mother severe bleeding – resulting in the child suffering a hypoxic brain injury and severe disability. A £1.75 million lump sum compensation payment was secured for the child, with index-linked periodical payments for life to cover ongoing care needs.
 
In another case the failure to monitor adequately the fetal heart rate during labour resulted in the baby being deprived of oxygen for a period of 25 minutes, causing significant mental and physical disabilities.  The mother also suffered injury, sustaining a substantial uterine tear and an associated psychiatric injury. Both claims were settled; the mother’s for £200,000 and the child’s for £1.5million with index-linked periodical payments for life to cover ongoing care needs.
 
Ms Castrofilippo said: “The figures revealed by the Freedom of Information request are very concerning, particularly at a time when the midwifery profession is in crisis. It is extremely worrying that, according to Royal College of Midwives data, England is 3,500 midwives short of the numbers it needs.
 
“Midwives play a pivotal role in the safe delivery of babies. Their importance in the childbirth setting should not be underestimated.  It is vital for the safety of both mothers and their babies that the NHS addresses this serious issue, especially at a time when the Health Secretary has stated that plans are in place to reduce the rate of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths in England by 50 percent by 2030.”

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