Recently the BBC broke the news that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to investigate a cluster of baby deaths at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Princess Royal Hospital.
A number of these tragic deaths occurred as a result of a failure by doctors and midwives to either listen to the babies heart prior to their birth or their failure to properly interpret their heart rates.
It is hard to imagine the grief experienced by parents who suffer stillbirths or the death of their child shortly after birth. There is no justifiable reason for failures identified by the BBC’s investigations. Heart monitoring is vital during the delivery of babies. It allows doctors and midwives to identify signs of foetal distress early so that babies can be delivered quickly, often by caesarean section.
The response of the medical director of Shrewsbury and Telford Trust, Dr Edwin Borman, is that their hospitals are no worse than anywhere else. He has indicated that their perinatal mortality rates are in line with those at other Trusts.
Though he seems to acknowledge that the Trust has failed to learn lessons from previous deaths, his response is very worrying and frankly not good enough. It is the fundamental right of every parent and every baby to receive competent care during and after birth. In 2017, failures to carry out basic foetal heart monitoring are completely unacceptable.
It seems widely accepted that the NHS faces funding shortages. Whilst this is not the time to investigate the reasons for such shortages or who is to blame for them, there are some very simple economics to consider.
Injuring babies costs the NHS (through the taxpayer) millions of pounds every year. Whilst no amount of money will compensate the parents identified by the BBC, lots of babies injured through lack of foetal heart monitoring actually survive. However, in doing so, they have often suffered hypoxic brain injuries (Brain damage due to the brain being starved of oxygen) and end up with cerebral palsy.
Each award for Cerebral Palsy injury costs several million pounds. Therefore the economics are simple. Birth injuries must be avoided.
The Health Secretary now needs to conduct a thorough and robust investigation into the problems at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust and to investigate the level of perinatal mortality at all other neonatal units. Thereafter he must ensure that the necessary funds are provided so that doctors and midwives receive appropriate training and that neonatal wards are properly staffed.
Nobody denies that this will cost money up front but it will save millions in future and avoid the human costs of perinatal deaths and serious brain injuries.
Neil Clayton specialises in birth injury medical negligence. Please call us on 0808 164 0808 if you have any queries in respect of this article or complete the request a call back form and we will call you.