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NHS reserve £235.4 million for babies suffering brain damage

£235.4 million has been set aside by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) for sixty babies that allegedly suffered brain damage, as a result of maternity staff who failed to notice their neonatal hypoglycaemia, The Guardian has reported.

The sum is the NHSLA’s estimate of the total cost of settling the sixty claims.  So far, £69.3 million has been spent on settling 19 cases, which have been concluded.  The remaining £166.1 million is the potential cost of settling the other 41.  The NHSLA expect this figure to rise when the annual sums to cover the babies’ lifelong care needs have been fully assessed.

In the past decade the NHSLA has received 79 claims relating to undetected or untreated hypoglycaemia in newborns, for which compensation has been paid ranging from between £300,000 and in excess of £7 million.  Compensation has exceeded £6 million in 19 of these cases.

Neonatal hypoglycaemia is a rare complication of childbirth affecting between one to three of every 1,000 babies.  If left undetected or untreated the consequences can be catastrophic.

It is thought that these mistakes occur on the part of midwives, and that the NHS’s shortage is the biggest factor in causing this. In March 2011 the family of Louis Peers, who suffers with cerebral palsy received the largest settlement so far in such a case, recovering more than £7 million.  This came after midwives at Heartlands Hospital, Birmingham failed to spot Louis’ dangerously low blood sugar levels for the first three days of his life, even though he was not feeding.

It is thought that some babies are more at risk of suffering from the condition, including those who are particularly big or small, in addition to babies who have diabetic mothers. A simple heel prick every few hours can detect and prevent complications in babies who are at an increased risk.

Peter Walsh, Chief Executive of Action Against Medical Accidents (AVMA) said “Whilst these cases are relatively small in number, the fact the effects are so catastrophic, and yet so preventable should make them a ‘never’ event in the NHS.  It is essential the NHS stops these mistakes happening”.

It is thought that better monitoring of babies feeding and blood sugar levels just after birth, alongside increased training and education of midwives will help identify warning signs of the condition. Professor Cathy Warwick, General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives said “Hypoglycaemia is something that in the majority of cases we should be detecting and preventing.  It is incredibly important that women are getting enough care in the postnatal period to ensure they have the information they need, and that babies are getting screened”.

Swain and Co’s medical negligence teams have experience of dealing with these type of cases, and can be contacted for free initial advice on 02392 483322 (Havant/Portsmouth) and 02380 631111 (Southampton).

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