Childbirth errors cost English NHS £3bn over ten years
By Vivienne Russell | 26 October 2012
The English NHS spent more than £3bn compensating women and children for injuries incurred during childbirth in the past decade, the NHS Litigation Authority revealed today.
A report published by the authority, which manages legal claims made against the health service in England, found that there had been 5,087 maternity claims between April 1 2000 and March 31 2010. This is set against the 5.5 million babies born in England during this period, so there was less than one claim per 1,000 births.
The highest total amount paid in a year was £459m in 2004/05 and the lowest was £35m in 2009/10.
The number of claims peaked at the start of the decade in 2000/01 with 692. This level remained broadly consistent until the middle of the decade when it started to decline, falling to 41 in 2009/10.
Maternity claims account for the highest value and second highest number of injury claims against the NHS. Payouts are often high because two individuals – mother and baby – can be affected and because problems at birth can lead to lifelong care needs. For example, there were 542 claims for cerebral palsy over the decade, which cost the NHS £1.3bn, or 40% of the total paid out in maternity compensation.
Cerebral palsy was one of three types of case accounting for 70% of the total value. The other two were mistakes in interpreting cardiotocograph readings, which monitor the baby's heart rate and a mother's contractions, and errors in the management of labour.
Cases often involved junior doctors and inexperienced midwives working without assistance from senior clinicians. The report suggested that having more senior staff available during labour, coupled with better training for junior doctors, might prevent harm.
Commenting on the findings, Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the NHS Litigation Authority, said having a baby under the care of the NHS remained ‘very safe’.
She added: ‘However, because maternity claims are so serious as they involve harm to mothers and their babies, it’s vital that we learn and share lessons from them so that professionals can improve their clinical practice in the future and prevent harm.’
Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, called the report ‘important and helpful’. He said: ‘The report highlights the importance of meeting national guidance and of ensuring good training. I would urge trusts to study the findings with great care and to consider how they should respond to the messages.’