By: 20 February 2024
Public inquiry into birth injuries is crucial following ‘surge’ in cases

Hudgell Solicitors is a firm acting for mothers, children and families who have suffered as a result of birth injuries. They have told a parliamentary inquiry that they are witnessing a “surge” in cases.

 

In a submission to the Westminster inquiry into the reasons behind an increasing number of birth trauma incidents across England, Hudgell Solicitors has told MPs the number of potential clients who believe their NHS maternity care was substandard continues to increase.

“The number of inquiries we received during 2020 / 2021 increased dramatically,” said Maria Repanos, head of clinical negligence at the firm’s Manchester office.

“This sharp rise in inquiries has also, in turn, led to a surge in birth trauma cases that we have successfully settled during that period,” she added.

 

‘A public inquiry is imperative’

Hudgell Solicitors also told the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on birth trauma that a statutory public inquiry into England’s maternity services is now crucial.

“A public inquiry is more likely to bring about much-needed indelible change in this matter, which is clearly an issue of public concern,” said Ms Repanos.

“Through our work with clients, we firmly believe that the NHS’s failure to improve maternity safety is so startling that a public inquiry is imperative in order to ensure that women, babies and their families no longer come to any avoidable harm,” she added.

Hudgell Solicitors asserts that investigations, such as those conducted by Donna Ockenden, have already revealed a lack of basic elements of safe care in numerous maternity units across England.

The APPG inquiry into birth trauma has been set up to investigate the causes of traumatic birth and to develop policy recommendations to reduce the rate of birth trauma. Research shows that:

  • 4 to 5% of women develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after giving birth. This affects around 25,000 to 30,000 women every year in the UK.
  • A much larger number – as many as one in three – find some aspects of their birth experience traumatic.
  • 53% of women who experienced birth trauma are less likely to have children in the future.
  • 84% of women who experienced tears during birth, did not receive enough information about birth injuries ahead of time.

 

‘Recommendations are not enough’

Maternity negligence incidents remain the highest costs of compensation claims against the NHS in England, in addition the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rates around one in four maternity services as either “inadequate” or “requires improvement”.

Hudgell Solicitors includes the birth trauma experiences of women who are clients in their submission to the APPG.

Many came forward wanting to share their stories as part of Hudgell’s campaign for meaningful change.

As one mother, who had an emergency hysterectomy “to save her life” just hours after giving birth, said:

“Recommendations are not enough, because recommendations for change are not evidence of change.”

These women’s experiences detail the significant impact that negligent birth trauma has had on their lives. It has left them with physical and psychological injuries, disabilities and had long-term effects on family relationships and finances.

More than 20 women submitted their experiences, saying:

 

Client A

“My little girl was stillborn. I was worried about my baby and I wasn’t listened to. I felt like I was treated as a pest. I had a condition which can be serious, but no one was concerned. We were that close to having Tilly and then we lost her, and it destroyed us.

“When I go to the cemetery and meet other families visiting their children’s graves, I hear similar stories just like mine. I would say to politicians that maternity services need proper staffing, and those staff need proper training, so more babies don’t die.”

 

Client B

“My birth led to a hysterectomy. I think I will always suffer emotionally from what has happened. I received conflicting advice from different consultants about the method of my delivery.

“I have since been told in my birth report that I should have been taken for an emergency C-section because my birth was high risk. It took over a year for the report to be completed. The decision was made to remove my uterus to save my life. I did not hold my baby until 48 hours after the birth.

“I could not physically care for my baby independently because of my operation or take care of myself when I did come home. I would like to see mothers of high-risk pregnancies under consultant care, and to see the same consultant every time.”

 

‘Systemic issues within maternity services’

Hudgell Solicitors advocates for properly resourcing maternity units with safe staffing levels and ensuring that those working within them receive vital training.

To prioritise this, authorities must increase maternity budgets to support these improvements.

“We have supported many parents whose children have sadly been stillborn or died during the neonatal period due to failures of healthcare provision on maternity wards. We are well versed in understanding these complex issues and we are hugely sympathetic to our resilient clients upon whose lives birth trauma has had a profound impact,” said Ms Repanos.

“We therefore support the Maternity Safety Alliance’s position that individual national initiatives and policies, although useful, are insufficient to tackle systemic issues within maternity services.

“Upon the basis that the issues affecting maternity services appear to be systemic, a statutory public inquiry can create meaningful change so that families who have suffered can be at the heart of any significant decisions that are subsequently made.”

The APPG will gather evidence to form a policy report containing recommendations for the UK Government, scheduled for publication in Spring 2024.

 

Image: Maria Repanos, Hudgell Solicitors.