After more than a billion pounds in birth negligence claims was paid out by the NHS over the past year, the government is finally taking action to safeguard families and the health service.
The UK government has launched a new scheme to support families around the UK that make birth negligence claims. It aims to drastically slash the average time it takes for a case to be resolved and improve maternity services.
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, says waiting over a decade from the time of a birth injury to receiving compensation is unacceptable and places additional burdens and hardships on families struggling to cope after such a devastating tragedy. Although his aims are welcome, his comments are puzzling. Where cases are not defended, it has long been the case that families do not have to wait that long and can obtain early part-payments of damages.
The new Rapid Resolution and Redress programme has been drawn up at a time when over 500 incidents relating to birth negligence claims occur at NHS hospitals every year, sometimes tragically resulting in severe injuries to a newborn and even fatalities.
Speedier Birth Negligence Claims
The new birth injury claims scheme is currently in a consultation phase and is based on a similar one in operation in Sweden, where the number of birth injuries has plummeted to around half of what it was since the plan was brought in seven years ago.
“By learning from proven methods in countries like Sweden, we hope to achieve a dramatic reduction in the number of tragedies where babies are lost or injured for life,” said Hunt. He says that even though maternity staff at the NHS do a “fantastic job under huge pressure”, problems with deliveries, including stillbirths, are among the highest in Europe. That, he says, has to change — as does what he points to a “culture of blame” when things go wrong.
Again, his comments, whilst welcome, are strange. The NHS Litigation Authority, which is involved in all existing claims against hospitals, should have all the information needed to learn from past mistakes. It is unclear why a new scheme is needed for lessons to be learned from past mistakes, but anything that helps to reduce injuries is, however, welcome.
So how will the new British scheme work once it is introduced? We do not yet know, but the health minister is hoping it will act as a kind of fast-track compensation payout system in dealing with birth injury claims.
Brain damage is unfortunately one of the most common forms of birth negligence at the NHS, as well as cerebral palsy. Others can include missed tears and maternal deaths, which, although rare, are often avoidable.
Such is the scale of the problem that from 2015 to 2016, the health service has paid out £1.2 billion to settle cases, according to official figures.
A Better Chance for Everyone
Among the main features of the new plan is a system whereby families could opt for what the government calls an “alternative system of compensation”. This would involve families receiving financial compensation over a period of time, as well as support that would include counselling. It offers families a way of getting redress for what has happened.
All this is not to say that the government wants to stop people from taking birth injury claims to court. Indeed, in situations where a medical procedure or care has not been up to standard and has caused injury or worse, families are still perfectly entitled to bring claims, particularly where doing so will produce a better outcome.
The government has also launched a new public health campaign to draw attention to childbirth issues and what women can do to make sure themselves and their babies are as healthy as possible. Called Our Chance for a Safer Pregnancy, it aims to help lower mortality rates and ensure more births than ever are safe and trouble-free. It will hopefully result in a lowering of birth injury rates, while giving quick compensation access to those who are sadly affected.
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