16:04, November 23 256 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-23 16:04:04
NHS trust embroiled in maternity scandal faces raft of new claims

An NHS hospital trust where clinical malpractice has been linked to the deaths or brain damage of at least 92 babies is facing a flood of fresh lawsuits. Nearly 100 families contacted law firms last week to find out if they could make a claim against the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) after an investigation identified cases involving substandard care where three mothers and 42 babies had died and at least 50 suffered brain damage since 1979.

The independent review into SaTH began in 2017 after the local coroner and several bereaved families raised concerns about the number of avoidable baby deaths. Initially the review covered just 23 cases, but now 600 are being investigated by a team led by midwifery expert Donna Ockenden in what has been described as the worst maternity scandal ever to hit the NHS.

That number could rise further, according to Kay Kelly, head of clinical negligence at Lanyon Bowdler. Her firm had received 77 enquiries by Friday lunchtime last week. “We’ve got seven or eight people taking calls,” she said. “It’s terrible, the most awful stories – people are crying even though it happened years ago.”

Kelly’s firm has represented about 50 clients making claims against SaTH over the past 15 years and Lanyon Bowdler now employs an in-house midwife, doctor and nurse to work on cases. Kelly has been in regular contact with the Ockenden review to provide information from her clients. “As I understand it, [the Ockenden review] has had 100 [new enquiries] since the leak [to the Independent last week]. We’ve got about 60 to send to her. They’re cases that have not been investigated. Some of them are really serious.”

Other firms also have clients with actions against SaTH. Irwin Mitchell is working with 21 people who have made complaints about maternity care at the hospitals.

Kashmir Uppal, of Shoosmiths, is representing three claims against the trust, including one mother whose son died in 2003 after an attempted breech delivery. The baby came out feet first, but his head became trapped for 30 minutes before he was delivered by an emergency caesarean section. By then he had been starved of oxygen and died two and a half hours later.

“I get the impression they wanted to follow vaginal deliveries at all cost,” Uppal said. “They weren’t thinking, ‘this lady has a risk factor; we need to follow a different course’. She wanted a caesarean section from the outset because she was worried.”

A reluctance to intervene may be a common factor in many of the tragedies in Shrewsbury and Telford. Vaginal birth has become less common since the 80s – possibly because more women give birth in their 30s and 40s and older mothers are more likely to have complicated births – so, in 2005, the Royal College of Midwives began a “normal birth” campaign to encourage mothers to give birth without caesarean sections, epidurals or other interventions.

They ended the campaign in 2017, following criticism after an inquiry into the deaths of 16 babies and three mothers in the maternity unit at Furness general hospital in Cumbria.

A spokesman for NHS Resolution said it was dealing with 40 obstetric claims against SaHT. “In total we have 116 outstanding claims against this trust involving other specialities. Since 2007 we have settled 56 obstetric claims against the trust and closed 27 without the payment of damages.”

Maternity claims accounted for about 60% of the £9bn the NHS admitted it was liable to pay last year, according to NHS Resolution, the body that oversees claims. In an attempt to reduce the number of claims, NHS Resolution has introduced a maternity incentive scheme. Hospitals which reach 10 safety standards receive extra funding, yet so far only 75 out of 132 trusts have achieved 10 out of 10.

For individual families who would otherwise rely on disability benefit and carer’s allowance, compensation can make a tragedy more bearable. In a case brought by Shoosmiths against a different NHS trust, a family has been able to move into a single-storey home.

“It’s large enough for carer’s accommodation and a bedroom for the child, a specially adaped bathroom,” Uppal said. “The mother can’t continue working because of the demands of ensuring the child’s needs are met. I know that people say all this money’s been taken out the NHS, but it’s allowed these poor people who’ve been robbed of their normal life just to have a life.”

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