County Councillor slams ‘scandal’ of families still fighting for maternity death and harm compensation

Maternity services

A county councillor says it is “a shame and a scandal” that families affected by maternity deaths and injuries at East Kent Hospitals are still battling for compensation.

The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reports that families have been told by NHS Resolution – which handles claims for clinical negligence – that they will have to prove liability for the harm caused to mothers and children before getting compensation.

An independent investigation into maternity failings at QEQM and William Harvey Hospitals  found 45 baby deaths could have been avoided.

NHS England and NHS Improvement commissioned Dr Bill Kirkup in 2020 to carry out an independent review into the circumstances of the maternity deaths at the East Kent Hospitals Trust sites in response to a concerning number of avoidable baby deaths.

Issues with maternity were brought into the spotlight following the death of baby Harry Richford at Margate’s QEQM Hospital in 2017 after a series of errors.

An independent report said he might have survived had there not been a delay in resuscitation at his birth that caused irreversible brain damage.

Some 200 families came forward to the Kirkup review over the preventable deaths of their babies.

Kirkup findings

The Kirkup report found that between 2009-2020, the timeframe under review, that: “those responsible for the services too often provided clinical care that was suboptimal and led to significant harm, failed to listen to the families involved, and acted in ways which made the experience of families unacceptably and distressingly poor.”

The Panel found that had care been given to the nationally recognised standards, the outcome could have been different in 97, or 48%, of the 202 cases assessed by the Panel, and the outcome could have been different in 45 of the 65 baby deaths, Numerous other failings were highlighted in the review.

Dr Kirkup

Now HSJ reports Dr Kirkup’s disappointment that NHS Resolution says families must prove causation and a breach of duty of care before any compensation can be made.

Dr Kirkup told HSJ:  “I am disappointed that East Kent families are facing these problems after everything that has happened to them. Of course, it is true that the independent investigation panel was not in a position to rule on negligence, but we did provide a robust clinical assessment of each case.

“I would have hoped that this could be taken into account in deciding to offer early settlement instead of a protracted dispute. It seems sad that a more compassionate approach has not been adopted.”

NHSR says it aims to resolve all compensation claims quickly and fairly and on their individual merits.

Data shows that 1,243 maternity negligence claims were made nationally in 2021-22, an increase of over 200 from 1,015 in 2019-20. A £90 billion pot was set aside by government to cover the costs of claims.

Cllr Constantine said: “It is a matter of national shame that these families will be made to ‘prove liability for the harm caused.’ This shows a truly callous attitude. Instead, the Government should show leadership and genuine compassion.

“This delay, unnecessary and unacceptable in my view, also continues to throw a shadow over East Kent Hospital Trust. It will dampen public trust and worker morale, it will make recruitment of midwifery staff that bit harder.

“The Tories have not only failed to deal with the crisis in maternity care, but have actively stoked chronic staff shortages. The historic midwives’ strike in 2014, the first in the Royal College of Midwives’ 120-year existence, was provoked in part by the Government’s proposals to terminate nursing and midwifery bursaries. The RCM warned the Government then that this was a fundamental mistake which would worsen significant staffing shortages evident at that time.

“I will now formally request for this matter to be raised at the Kent health overview and scrutiny meeting. My thoughts are with the mothers and families battling this belittling bureaucracy.”

Taskforce

Last year it was announced that a national taskforce would be set up to review “maternity and neonatal improvement programmes” across the UK.

Minister for women’s health strategy Maria Caulfield MP announced the measure as part of the government’s response to the inquiry carried out by Dr Bill Kirkup and his team.

3 Comments

  1. If claiments aren’t required to show negligence, then what checks and balances will there be?
    Tragically, there are neonatal deaths that have nothing to do with the health practitioners.
    If bereaved parents want a share of this £90 billion pot, they should, surely, show that they are entitled to it?

    • To get to this stage a robust clinical assessment has already been made. As Bill Kirkup pointed out. There are families struggling and also striving to provide care to their children due to the mistakes made. This wasn’t the child or parents fault. I think they deserve faster justice. For many – no amount of money can ever compensate for the loss of a child – there’s no real need to drag this situation out.

  2. I would have thought the Kirkup enquiry itself would be substantial proof of liability.Its the little people versus the organisation again. Most of the claimants won’t be able to afford legal assistance so they will have to use no win no fee litigation,so even if they win they lose out and the costs are astronomical.It would be far better to have an assessment of harm and for a payment to be made on the basis of need and loss.However, this is Britain in the 21st century where everyone looks to cover their base, even when real harm has been done.

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