Midwife failures case shows damage done by lack of honesty

7th July 2016 Clinical Negligence

The compounding of families' grief that happens when NHS trusts fail to acknowledge failures and poor care is something we speak up about a lot in the medical negligence team at JMW.

When an avoidable injury or death has been caused as a direct result of the actions (or inactions) of a healthcare worker the main thing victims want is for someone to hold their hands up and say sorry.

When that doesn't happen families struggle to make sense of their situation and put the trauma behind them. How can those responsible for their care betray their trust in this way?

As a partner in the JMW medical negligence team it's a situation I have seen arise numerous times in the cases I have handled. Patients and families being told that what happened 'was just one of those things' but left feeling that something was not right, leading them to seek legal advice.

One of the most tangible benefits of JMW's involvement in these situations is that we can investigate what went wrong, find the answers families are looking for and if appropriate, pursue a legal case which results in mistakes being admitted and apologies issued. It's an important step in moving on and it's appalling that it can take such intervention to achieve it.

The issue was highlighted this when with the news of the findings of a fitness to practise hearing panel following the death of a baby boy at Furness General Hospital in 2008 (The Guardian). The panel has finally ruled that midwifery failings caused baby Joshua Titcombe to lose a 'significant chance of survival by not referring him to a paediatrician when they discovered warning signs that he was unwell. One of the midwives was sacked by the hospital this year following the death of another baby.

Joshua was just nine-days-old when he passed away yet it has taken until 2016 for the midwives involved to be held to account. There were a number of tragedies arising as a result of the failures of care at the trust during this period and eventually a public enquiry was held last year. Indeed the team at JMW has represented the family of a young girl with catastrophic brain damage due to failures at the same trust securing a multi-million-pound care package.

Joshua's father told the Guardian: 'It is the denial that has been so hurtful. It's a huge relief to our family that the truth has finally been established.'

What a huge amount of avoidable suffering to have endured. As well as the pain a lack of honesty and openness causes there is also the patient safety aspect whereby opportunities for learning and changes to be made are lost meaning there is more chance it could have happened again.

In recent years the government has made much of its wish to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world. A culture of honesty will go a long way in achieving that ambition (along with many other things but that's another story). However making the NHS the most compassionate health service should also be a priority so that it can stop making things worse for patients who are already going through enormous difficulties. As with Hillsborough, there needs to be a fundamental change of attitude of public bodies to restore public trust which can only come through accountability.

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Eddie Jones is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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