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Maternity negligence cases make up half of NHS legal costs

Midwifery RCM
Negligence in maternity care is costing the NHS more than any other area in legal costs

Negligence in maternity care is costing the NHS more than any other area in legal costs, according to NHS Resolution’s annual report.

Despite only making up 10% of the 10,686 claims the NHS received from patients in 2016-17, maternity action represented 50% of the £4,370 million taken from the service following action.

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Among the most expensive maternity claims made were those around cases where babies suffered brain damage during birth. The money retrieved was usually needed to pay for care for the baby for the rest of their life.

NHS Resolution chief executive Helen Vernon said: ‘Incidents arising in maternity continue to dominate our expenditure due to the very high value of claims arising from brain injuries at birth. These incidents can have a devastating impact on those involved and we must do everything we can to learn from what happened.

‘The value of these cases reflects the complex nature of the injuries and the subsequent care required and under today’s legal framework could exceed £20 million for one child.’

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While much focus has been put on labour events leading to brain damage, the NHS in England launching initiatives to reduce perinatal and maternal deaths. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has pledged its support to projects seeking to avoid maternity outcomes which can lead to claims being filed, with many signs appearing in the antenatal period.

The RCM called for focus on evidence based initiatives to detect those pregnancies where the foetus is failing to grow as expected, to identify those women with psycho-social or medical risk factors and ensure that they receive appropriate care.

RCM director for midwifery Louise Silverton said: ‘As in previous years, this report shows the level of payments relating to negligence around care before, during and after birth continues to be very high.

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‘One cannot separate out the contribution to quality care from individual midwives from the system in which they work.

'The ongoing shortage of midwives employed in our maternity services, and the numbers of midwives who tell us they plan to leave the profession, are inhibiting efforts to improve care through making time for training and learning, introducing continuity of carer and other initiatives.

‘The RCM believes that further investment in maternity services, addressing the midwife shortage and enabling implementation of NICE guidance around reducing still birth, could free up funds from the considerable costs of litigation.’