1 in 12 cerebral palsy cases ‘could have been avoided’ over past decade, figures reveal

  • NHS trusts in England paid out more than £4.3 billion in damages across 1,441 cerebral palsy clinical negligence claims over the past 10 years
  • It is estimated that 1,800 children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year[i] – meaning 144 cases were caused by failed maternity care
  • Parents brought forward 268 cerebral palsy-related claims in financial year 2020/21 – the highest number of cases in at least a decade
  • NHS failings in relation to cerebral palsy have cost tax payers an average of £493 million a year since 2010
  • We are is highlighting the importance of clinical negligence claims in funding vital aftercare and safeguarding patients

Almost 1 in 12 cerebral palsy cases could have been avoided – new figures revealed to us have shown.

A freedom of information request submitted to NHS Resolution[i] showed that between the financial years 2010/11 and 2020/21, NHS trusts settled 1,441 clinical negligence claims related to the lifelong condition – paying out £4.3 billion in damages, an average of £3 million per case, and £613 million in legal fees.

The data also revealed that the Department of Health, Barts Health NHS Trust, and Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust paid out the most – a combined total of £551 million across 206 claims. In 2020/21, 268 new claims were brought forward – the highest in at least a decade.

To provide further context, the table below illustrates the damages paid over 10 years by trusts within certain UK locations, and the number of clinical negligence claims that were covered:

Robert Rose, our Head of Clinical Negligence, said: “One of the main causes of cerebral palsy is hypoxic brain injury during childbirth, which is where a baby’s brain gets starved of oxygen. Sometimes, this cannot be prevented or it is impossible to work out what caused the child’s injuries.

“However, negligent mistakes by healthcare professionals can lead to a child sustaining a hypoxic brain injury. Errors can include delayed delivery, birth injuries, failing to respond to the umbilical cord being wrapped around a baby’s neck, and missing signs of foetal distress, such as meconium.

“Our NHS is fantastic. While the first duty of a healthcare system is to do no harm, sometimes things do go wrong and care falls below medical standards. Clinical negligence claims play a critical role in safeguarding patients against negligent treatment. In all my cases, clients are predominantly seeking to establish the truth, an apology and to prevent healthcare professionals from making the same mistakes in the future.

“Negligent injuries resulting in cerebral palsy should not take place and we know the lessons that should have been learned, but unfortunately time and time again, the same mistakes are made. Regrettably, I have seen many of these mistakes before and we will look to obtain the appropriate expert evidence to guide the family through the complex legal process as arrangements are put in place to assist their child.”

With no available cure, cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that affects movement and co-ordination. Those living with the condition may face movement, walking and speech difficulties, learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, hearing or vision loss, epilepsy, spinal deformities and joint problems – requiring ongoing physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and medication.

Robert said: “Caring for and supporting a child with cerebral palsy can be extremely difficult physically, emotionally and financially. Many families cannot afford the expensive and essential equipment, care assistance, education, and home adaptations required to help their son or daughter live a fulfilling life.

“One of the key reasons parents decide to make a cerebral palsy claim is to ensure there are sufficient funds to support their child’s ongoing health and care costs. All cerebral palsy settlements are different and it is almost impossible to put an accurate figure on the average pay-out.

“The amount of compensation depends on each individual scenario and can include whether a new vehicle is required for wheelchair access, home adaptations for disability assistance equipment, loss of earnings for parents or the requirement for external carers at home.”

According to disability charity Scope, approximately 1,800 children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year, meaning 1 in 12 (8%) of the estimated 18,000 new cases over the past 10 years were caused by negligent mistakes.

For more support regarding clinical negligence claims, please call us on 0808 164 0808 or request a call back, and one of our team will be in touch.

[i] Lime Solicitors submitted a freedom of information request to NHS Resolution, which holds information relating to clinical negligence claims on behalf of all NHS trusts in England. Full responses are available on request.

Financial yearNumber of obstetric claims and incidents received between FY 2010/11 to 2020/21 where the primary, secondary or tertiary injury is cerebral palsy or brain damage
Number of obstetric claims closed (or settled as a periodic payment order) between FY 2010/11 to 2020/21 with damages paid, where the primary, secondary or tertiary injury is cerebral palsy or brain damage
Number of claimsDamages paidLegal costs paid (NHS and claimant)

[i] According to disability charity Scope, approximately 1,800 children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year.