Rapid Redress in Maternity Negligence Claims – What Does it Mean for the Patient?
The government has today publicised plans to introduce a trial voluntary redress scheme for maternity clinical negligence claims where parents believe their baby has suffered as a result of an avoidable incident during their birth. The scheme was initially announced in February 2016, but today has seen Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of Health promoting the trial.
Much has been made of the rapid resolution available to families, and if this can be achieved, all those involved in representing and supporting those affected, would welcome quicker resolution. This must however sit along side fair and just resolution. The legal process can and often does take many years to conclude. This can be for a variety of reasons, but can importantly include the need to fully understand the impact of any injury sustained during the birth. A decision in principle on whether the NHS staff were negligent can be based on the medical records and accounts of those involved, as is proposed under the voluntary scheme. This often involves looking at the circumstances through pregnancy and the birth and will need input from the antenatal midwife team, hospital midwives and healthcare providers through to consultant obstetricians.
The critical phase is to then ensure the needs of the child are fully met for the rest of their life. Knowing exactly what those needs are can take time and may not be immediately apparent.
The success of the scheme will depend on the robustness of those investigations and the gathering of the necessary medical opinion to identify likely recovery, deterioration and future changing needs. Will the child need 24/7 care for the rest of their life? Could further rehabilitation be beneficial? Resolution in this circumstances is not about the financial payment, it is about ensuring the child’s needs are fully met so their and their families lives can be made as easy as possible. We must also bear in mind that but for the initial error, these children would be living the healthy lives planned for by their parents during the pregnancy.
The scheme will be voluntary and parents will still have the right to pursue a legal claim should they wish to do so. Each circumstances will be different, and some may suit a rapid response process, while other more complex or contentious situations will need to be considered in full. Not all negligence cases involve a final hearing at court, many will settle during the course of the proceedings but on some occasions where the circumstances are not clear cut, the involvement of the court is needed to ensure the child’s claim is justly and fully considered and decided.
Today’s press coverage refers to a similar scheme in Sweden which is credited with improving the standards of care and treatment provided to mothers and babies. If this system can contribute to improving standards and preventing avoidable incidents, it will achieve a major aim. Improving standards of care has to be the priority, over savings on legal costs. The current protocols provide an efficient means of progressing claims if all parties adhere and there are no major complications in the health of the child. The voluntary scheme must also build in this flexibility to allow for unexpected changes and developments.
Patient representatives and claimant lawyers have welcomed the intentions of the scheme and will wait with anticipation to see how the trial evolves over the coming months.