Sickening scale of NHS’ worst maternity scandal

26th November 2019 Clinical Negligence

The sickening scale of the maternity scandal at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust revealed by the Independent last week made for harrowing reading even for the most experienced of clinical negligence solicitors who have dealt with such cases during their whole career.

We’ve been here before with the similarly appalling failures at Morecambe Bay when we were assured that events so cataclysmic would never be repeated. Yet here we are again being told of a culture of poor care so toxic that it led to the deaths of at least 42 babies and three mothers and caused more than 50 children to suffer permanent brain damage. A further 600 cases are to be investigated so the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by failures is likely to rise even further.

Given the number of families who contact our clinical negligence team on a weekly basis for help challenging similar incidents at other hospital trusts nationwide my feeling now is that this is unlikely to be the last maternity scandal we hear of.

The fact is the NHS has always taken a defensive stance to such claims and reports and investigations are often done behind closed doors. The Shrewsbury and Telford investigation was leaked to the Independent and hundreds of families whose cases are going to be included had not been told until this publicity emerged (BBC).

The failures that lead to babies needlessly dying or suffering brain damage are not unique to this trust. What is extremely alarming is that it was first accepted that there was an issue with unsafe maternity care 40 years ago yet nothing was done to stop the trend of regular incidents.

At JMW, we have represented families who have not only suffered the most tragic of circumstances due to completely avoidable mistakes, but have also been lied to, not told about critical investigations and needlessly dragged through a protracted legal process. This is still happening despite promises for more NHS candour from successive health secretaries. As well as hurting the families who put their trust in the NHS it is also preventing valuable lessons from being learned.

An issue that is prevalent in many of the maternity cases the team at JMW deals with nationwide involving deaths and brain damage is poor use of the fetal heart rate monitor (CTG). This could be misinterpreting the readings so that signs of distress are missed and delivery is delayed or not ensuring monitoring is consistently achieved. I suspect these failures will have occurred in some of the cases in Shrewsbury.

Only a national approach has any chance of raising standards across the board because as we have seen in Shrewsbury and Morecambe Bay, individual trusts cannot be relied upon to identify and act upon this issue. I urge the NHS to take a firm stance on this and make improving standards in CTG monitoring an urgent priority.

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

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