‘Families should not have to fight years for justice when medical errors cause life-long harm to babies’
The mother of a severely disabled 17-year-old boy who is set for a potential £20m medical negligence damages payout says it has been ‘appalling’ that her family has had to fight years for the support they so badly need.
A judge’s High Court ruling paved the way for the family, who now live in East Yorkshire, to be awarded an immediate £500,000 in interim damages ahead of a final settlement being agreed with Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.
That is expected to be in the region of £15-20m based on previous similar cases, as damages are calculated on the cost of providing life-long care and support.
The case, which has been brought to a successful conclusion for the family by Hudgell Solicitors, centred on the care provided to the boy’s mother when 37 weeks pregnant and concerns she raised when attending an antenatal clinic about a continued lack of movement from her baby.
It was alleged an obstetrician wrongly reassured her all was fine following a scan. Four days later – and after continued lack of movement – her son was born at the City Hospital in Nottingham having suffered a brain injury due to chronic partial hypoxia.
He was left severely disabled and in need of 24-hour care.
Although it was agreed as part of the case that the boy would have suffered no neurological injury had he been born up to two days earlier, the Trust denied the obstetrician carried out a scan at the antenatal clinic and the mother’s claim that she had raised concerns about reduced movement.
Following a three day trial the judge dismissed the Trust’s evidence and ruled that the mother’s account of what happened was correct.
Mother says families should not face years without support
The boy’s mother said no family in their situation should be made to fight for so long to secure the help and support they need.
“It was nine years ago that we started our legal claim and it has taken years of fighting for justice and the support we need as a family,” she said.
“Right to the end the Trust opposed everything we knew had happened, knowing the difficulties we have faced for 17 years, and our son will continue to face for the rest of his life.
“We still had to go to court and see the Trust, and the obstetrician, deny giving me advice which we now know led to our son being born as he is, and have the immensely difficult life he has.
“For the Trust to go to court and basically accuse me of lying I thought was appalling. I wish they could live a day in our shoes to see how difficult life can be bringing up a child who is so severely disabled and in need of 24 hour care.
“Families should not have to fight years for justice when medical errors cause life-long harm to their babies.”
Baby didn’t reach key milestones in first year and was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy
Following the boy’s birth in 2004, the mother says her baby was not meeting expected milestones in his first year and so she arranged for him to have an MRI scan, with the findings being that he had asymmetric quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
“He was my second child so I had some idea about how babies develop and that he wasn’t meeting the milestones. He cried a lot and wasn’t sitting up or rolling over and making no sounds to speak,” she said.
“The diagnosis was still a shock to us, even though the neonatologist told us when he was born that he could be brain damaged. We always felt something had gone wrong but didn’t think about taking legal advice at first. You have so much to deal with at that time. We didn’t know where to start.”
The mother says the family have faced a constant battle to secure help and funding over the past 17 years.
“We’ve had bits of help, but it’s always been a battle. We did get a stair lift when he was younger through the local authority but it was no good as he was too anxious to go on it, and when he did get bigger his legs got trapped on the wall. Then we also managed to get a wet room fitted downstairs,” she said.
“It took until he was 14 though to get the funding approved for a downstairs bedroom to be built in our home, so for 14 years we have had to carry him up to bed at night and downstairs in a morning, and that is difficult as he’s not like healthy children who wrap their legs around you.”
The mother says life caring for a child with 24 hour needs, with little support, is ‘constantly draining’.
“You almost feel awful saying it because, of course you love your child so much, but it is so tough and draining. There is never a break,” she said.
“In a morning he needs help getting up and changing because he still has to wear nappies. We wash him, dress him, get him into his wheelchair and feed him a high calorie breakfast. He needs me, my husband and family members with him all the time. Apart from the hours he is in a special school, attention is focused on him all the time.
“In 17 years we’ve only ever managed to have a few short breaks rest when my parents (who are now reaching their 80s) and a friend, have looked after him for us. It’s too much to ask of them now though.”
Judge’s ruling paves way for dedicated, life-long package of specialist care and support
Following the court judgement our lawyers at Hudgell Solicitors, who have acted on behalf of the boy and his mother for nine years, have been able to start the process of securing a complete package of support, starting with the appointment of a dedicated case worker, who will assess his immediate and longer term needs.
Dedicated specialists will be employed, using the compensation settlement.
“It is all a bit surreal to think we are now suddenly going to start getting all the help we need, but the most important thing for me is knowing he’ll be cared for, for the rest of his life,” the mother said.
“Given the years we have had to fight for this result I wish we’d acted much sooner, and I’d say to any other parent to get legal advice immediately if you have a child born with a brain injury and you’ve got suspicions things weren’t right.
“It’s a shame that people don’t admit mistakes when so much is at stake for a family. It impacts on the entire family every day, for the rest of their lives.”
Solicitor says many attempts were made to settle case earlier and out of court
Solicitor Chris Moore, of Hudgell Solicitors, represented the family in the case and, following an initial period of investigating the matter, first issued a claim for damages from Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust in 2016.
The Trust denied liability from that day onwards, and following an indication that no offers of settlement would be made at any stage, legal aid was obtained to launch court proceedings.
Mr Moore said: “All reasonable attempts to compromise and settle the claim were resisted by the NHS Trust throughout our time representing the boy and his family, and in that time life became increasingly difficult for them all as he reached teenage years.
“We were prepared to agree sensible figures out of court which would have covered lifelong care and support because that money would still have made a massive difference to the boy.
“We see too many cases such as this where a defendant Trust simply closes its eyes to what actually happened, and in this case I am sure they hoped that with repeated denials that we would go away. That would have left this boy and his family with no support, and crucially no future care for him when he is an adult.
“We were not prepared to give up on the case. We believed the mother entirely as she was clear in her memory of the events, even to the detail of the obstetrician who scanned her then visiting her on the ward after enduring a traumatic birth.
“I am delighted that a settlement will now be agreed to ensure the boy has all the specialist care and support he needs. I know it has come as a great relief for the family.”
The mother praised Mr Moore for his continued support in seeing through their case to victory.
She said: “I know people will see the value of the potential final settlement and think it is a lot of money, but this will be money to provide the care our son needs, helping us give him the most comfortable life now, and crucially ensuring he has 24 hour care when we are not around in the future.
“I can’t thank Chris Moore and Hudgell Solicitors enough. When we had difficult times and periods where we have been feeling down, he has been positive and picked us up by pledging to get the result we needed for our son. He did just that and we are so grateful for his dedication, and belief in us.”