“More compassionate approach” needed in maternity claims scheme

Coverage of poor care in NHS maternity units around England has been extensive over recent years. Some NHS trusts have found themselves at the centre of inquiries, which independently examine the quality of care at an organisational level.

One such trust is East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, which is one of the largest NHS trusts in England. Following mounting concerns about patient safety in the trust’s maternity units, a review was carried out in 2022, led by Dr Bill Kirkup, which examined individual cases between 2009 and 2020.

The review’s findings, published on 19 October 2022, made for sad reading. It established that at least 45 babies might have survived with better care. 12 babies sustained avoidable brain damage, and 23 women who either died or suffered injuries might have had better outcomes had adequate care been given to them.

One would hope that such distressing findings would result in families who have been affected by poor care being able to come forward and seek compensation without having to delve into legal investigations which are often lengthy and distressing.

The findings of the review cannot be viewed as anything other than an indication that harm was caused as a result of organisational failings. However, whilst a Maternity Incentive Scheme has been established, affected families are having to essentially start from scratch and prove liability for harm caused, despite the findings of the review. Dr Kirkup has publicly criticised the approach being taken by the organisation responsible for managing the East Kent claims on behalf of the trust. He has also criticised the Government’s action, or lack thereof, in response to the review’s findings.

Families often endure months and sometimes years of intrusive and distressing procedures before getting the answers they deserve and the compensation they are entitled to. Trust investigations, inquests, interviews, psychological assessments – all of these add strain to vulnerable injured and grieving people and their families.

When clients come to us, many just want those responsible to acknowledge the harm that was done and explain how and why it happened. “Accountability” is a goal which nearly all claims have in common.

Despite calls for a culture of openness and transparency within NHS trusts, patients and their lawyers are facing difficult opposition with obstructive and sometimes aggressive approaches being taken even in cases where it is clear that damage has been done as a result of organisational failings. Although explanations and financial compensation cannot remedy the damage done, affected people should have the opportunity to seek these things without unreasonable obstructions.

At Freeths, we are experts in investigating legal claims relating to poor maternity and neonatal care and supporting clients affected by associated trauma. We understand the physical and emotional trauma caused by unsafe maternity practices and that the wounds inflicted can cause lifelong issues. We represent mothers, babies, and their families in seeking answers and justice.

Our South team, headed by Partner Carolyn Lowe, covers Kent and surrounding counties. For a free confidential discussion about the maternity or neonatal care which you or a loved one has received, please contact Sophie Hazell or any member of the obstetric claims team:

Carolyn Lowe
Catherine Bell
Lucy Habgood
Katie Shaw

For further information about the work we do, please visit our Clinical Negligence page.

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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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