JMW pledges support for the Maternity Safety Alliance call for a national inquiry into maternity care

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JMW pledges support for the Maternity Safety Alliance call for a national inquiry into maternity care

In October, a new campaign was launched by a group of brave bereaved families who have all experienced the unthinkable: their precious babies died, either during or shortly after labour, and their deaths were caused by negligent care on the part of the midwives and doctors who were trusted to safely deliver them.

Reading the different stories of baby loss from those at the helm of the Maternity Safety Alliance, which is calling for a national public inquiry into maternity safety, I was struck by the unimaginable grief and anger these families must have experienced, and how similar it was to what the families we represent at JMW have been through.

We have worked on behalf of countless families whose perfectly healthy babies have died during labour or when they are a few days old, at their tiniest and most vulnerable. Or those whose baby has suffered injury during labour which has resulted in disability, often profound, with conditions such as cerebral palsy or Erb’s palsy. I recently settled a case for a devastated mother whose four-week-old son had died as a result of complications of prematurity from which he could not recover. It was eventually accepted by the trust that this could have been very easily avoided if basic errors had not occurred. His mum will suffer the consequences of these errors for the rest of her life.

We also frequently act for women who have been injured during labour. I'm currently acting for a woman who was left in the advanced stages of labour for more than eight hours, more than double the recommended time, against all guidelines and basic standards of care. She has been left with horrendous injuries as a result, including double incontinence and requiring significant surgery. Again, it has been admitted by the trust that this was unacceptable and so this should have been avoided. 

Sadly, we could provide hundreds more examples of such poor care being received by our clients in recent years. 

Happening across the board

What stands out to me is that the experiences of both the families leading the Maternity Safety Alliance, and our clients at JMW, occurred at different hospitals across the country. This is not an issue concentrated in a small number of hospitals but something which is happening across the board.

The call for a statutory national public inquiry by the Maternity Safety Alliance is in recognition of the fact that there have been a number of reviews at hospital trusts across the country in recent years. The latest large scale maternity scandal currently being investigated is at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, which, along with other trust investigations, has identified patterns of poor care. However, despite these local reviews, very little seems to be changing, and my team and I continue to be contacted on a regular basis by families who say their baby died, or was injured, following appalling failures.

The Maternity Safety Alliance website features some shocking statistics. In recent years, stillbirth and neonatal deaths have increased and the number of full-term babies dying during labour has increased. And whilst the focus of the headlines around poor maternity care is often the tragic deaths of babies, it seems likely that there will have also been a corresponding increase in babies being injured during birth, something which can lead to lifelong and significant disabilities for that child, and a rippling, devastating impact for their family. 

Not only that, the number of mothers dying during pregnancy, labour or in the weeks following birth has increased from 10.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2018-20 to 11.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2019-21. It is truly shocking that we are going backwards in terms of women dying during childbirth in this country, something we associate with days long past. Again, this also doesn’t take into account the devastating injuries women experience when things go wrong during labour. 

The demand for a statutory national public inquiry calls for a wider look into the scale of maternity care failings and exactly what is going wrong, including how adverse events are investigated and learned from and why women are simply not being listened to. 

 Cover ups and denials

Since the campaign launched, there has been a steady stream of women describing their traumatic birth experiences on social media. Time and time again, women describe being dismissed or ignored by midwives and doctors when they voiced their pain or expressed concerns about their labour. Time and again, parents describe things being covered up, denied and, shockingly, their records being amended to cover mistakes. When there have been errors in care, the additional upset and trauma patients and their families experience when these errors are denied or covered up cannot be overstated. 

I wish I could say I was surprised by the treatment described above, but in the large number of cases we are dealing with at JMW we frequently find families are subject to a lack of honesty and openness. Together with these families, we fight to uncover the truth, but the battle they face only compounds their unimaginable distress.

My colleagues and I have pledged our support for the Maternity Safety Alliance campaign and commend their efforts to bring about change. Although we witness the consequences of the worsening NHS maternity care on a daily basis, it doesn't get any less shocking. Enough is enough and something now needs to be done to reverse this decline and take decisive action to avoid the lives of all of these precious babies being lost. 


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