More than one baby is at risk of being stillborn due to negligence each week, figures reveal

  • NHS trusts in England paid out more than £29.8 million in damages across 758 stillbirth-related clinical negligence claims over the past 10 years
  • Around 2,500 babies[i] are born sleeping each year – 75 of which are due to negligence, according to the latest figures
  • NHS failings in relation to stillbirths have cost tax payers an average of £6.4 million a year since 2010
  • This Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15 October), law firm Lime Solicitors is highlighting the importance of clinical negligence claims in safeguarding patients

More than one baby is lost each week due to failings – new figures revealed to our clinical negligence team have shown.

A freedom of information request submitted to NHS Resolution[ii] showed that between the financial years 2010/11 and 2020/21, NHS trusts settled 758 clinical negligence claims relating to stillbirths – paying out £29.8 million in damages, an average of £39,000 per case, and a further £34.8 million in legal fees.

We have released these figures as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15 October), and just months after midwife and nurse Donna Ockenden chaired an independent review into two decades of appalling care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.

Robert Rose, our Head of Clinical Negligence said: “While the Ockenden Report focused on failings in Shrewsbury and Telford, its findings appear indicative of maternity services across the country, which is further highlighted by the fact that more than one baby in England is at risk of being stillborn due to negligence each week. Failures in care are being repeated because lessons are not learned. There has to be change and there has to be candour when mistakes are made.

“Not all stillbirths are preventable. Some can be caused as a result of complications with the placenta, diabetes, high blood pressure, infection or lack of oxygen to the baby. Negligence occurs when medical professionals fail in providing an acceptable standard of care for their patients, such as mothers not being monitored appropriately during their pregnancy, a pre-existing history of diabetes or high blood pressure not being properly monitored, or failing to diagnose and treat an inflection.

“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 ensure healthcare professionals learn from their own tragic experiences to prevent making the same mistakes in the future.

“Suffering a stillbirth is extremely traumatic and while no amount of compensation can change the pain negligence causes, one of the key reasons parents decide to make a claim is to ensure they do not suffer financially. The amount of compensation depends on each individual scenario, but can include loss of earnings, expected future financial losses, care and support, therapy and counselling, travel costs, childcare, and funeral expenses.”

Case study: Bekki Hill

Mother-of-three Bekki Hill was forced to deliver her daughter stillborn after her requests for induced labour were ignored by Chesterfield Royal Hospital.

Willow Grace was stillborn at the hospital on 4 May 2016. Fearing that something was wrong, 43-year-old Bekki had asked to be induced the day before and also on 26 April, but her requests were declined on each occasion – with medics reassuring her that everything was fine despite repeated episodes of glycosuria (glucose in her urine).

After a three-year legal battle, Bekki, of Chesterfield, settled her medical negligence claim against the hospital earlier this year – but she is still yet to receive any acknowledgement of failings or an apology from the trust, despite having a very clear and supportive independent expert opinion.

Bekki said: “Willow Grace’s death has changed me forever. I’m no longer the person I used to be. Losing a child makes you realise how fragile life is and it makes you more paranoid. I don’t want any other family going through what I’ve been through. If it’s because of nature, it’s because of nature, but if it happens because someone simply didn’t listen to you – that’s not right.”

Throughout the course of her pregnancy, Bekki attended several antenatal appointments where her blood pressure was recorded as normal, Willow Grace’s heartbeat was heard, and foetal movement was noted. However, at 39 weeks, on 26 April 2016, a midwife expressed concerns as growth was noted to be slow and referred Bekki to a consultant obstetrician.

At around 40 weeks, Bekki started to feel unwell with lower back and abdominal pain. She attended a midwifery appointment, where a membrane sweep was carried out at her request to bring on labour. A few days later at another appointment, Willow Grace’s movement was recorded as being active.

On 3 May 2016, Bekki asked to be induced as she could feel Willow Grace moving erratically and felt something was wrong. However, her request was declined and an induction was booked for a week later in line with policy. Bekki was continually told the hospital didn’t perform inductions until a patient was 42 weeks. There was no consideration as to the individual circumstances and Bekki’s request.

The next day, Bekki called the hospital as she believed she was in labour, but was told to call back later as there was no room on the ward. After two more calls 20 and 15 minutes later respectively, staff advised Bekki that she could attend. At 7.25pm on 4 May 2016, Willow Grace’s heartbeat was not heard. A sonographer was called, who, at 8.15pm, confirmed that Willow Grace had died. She was stillborn at 11.27pm.

Bekki – who set-up Willow’s Wish after her daughter’s death, which has so far raised more than £5,500 for local stillbirth charities – said: “I was constantly told everything was fine throughout my pregnancy, even though I had reported feeling unwell. Hardly any of what I reported was in my notes and the consultant couldn’t remember me requesting to be induced.

“While I can’t blame the hospital for being understaffed, I can blame the consultants for ignoring someone who was in front of them concerned about their baby. It was like they abandoned me. Instead of listening, I was spoken to like an idiot. We were completely let down. Willow Grace’s death was avoidable. Had I been induced when I asked, Willow Grace would still be with us.”

Letter of claim

We served a letter of claim in March 2019. In July 2019, the hospital responded and denied all allegations. Proceedings were sent to the court in December 2019 and they were served on the defendant in January 2020. The defence was received in February 2020. Again, all allegations were denied.

Despite litigation tactics used by the defendant to try and weaken Bekki’s case, settlement was achieved in January 2022 – just three weeks before the trial was due to take place. However, the denial of breach of duty was maintained throughout and no apology has been offered by the trust.

Bekki said: “The NHS is wonderful and there are some amazing people working within it, but it can be mismanaged and the way it handles medical errors is disgraceful.

“All I wanted was an explanation and a promise to listen to other women to make sure what happened to Willow Grace doesn’t happen again. In order to get the truth, I had to sue, which should never, ever be the case. The hospital ran up unnecessary legal fees, when it should have simply given me the answers in the beginning.

“Without support from Lime Solicitors, I would never have gotten the answers I needed. I’m so grateful to the team, who were amazing and treated me more like a friend than a client.”

While a cause of death has not been confirmed, an independent consultant instructed by our team as part of the claim believes Willow Grace’s death was caused by undiagnosed gestational diabetes.

[i] Figures from babies charity Tommy’s

[ii] 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.

Number and cost of clinical claims closed between financial years 2010/11 and 2020/21 with damages paid (including the damages paid to date for any claims on a periodical payment order basis) where the primary injury is “stillborn”
Number of claims Damages paid Legal costs paid (NHS and claimant)
758 £29,882,120 £34,882,157