Medical Negligence

Maternity hospital apologises to mother of stillborn child for substandard care and agrees compensation

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Samantha Gardner

Associate Solicitor

8 min read time

A hospital has apologised and agreed to pay compensation to a mother who lost her baby daughter at 36 weeks.

A breakdown in communications and other failures led to the stillbirth at Birmingham Women’s Hospital which has now admitted mistakes were made.

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Trust said it was “extremely sorry” for the mother’s “substandard care”.

The mother from Birmingham, who does not wish to be named, developed a liver condition in pregnancy, causing a build-up of acids in her body, and was told this would increase the chances of an early birth or a stillbirth.

The hospital drew up a care plan to monitor the mother and baby’s health and set a date for an induced labour.

However, the delivery date was brought forward by a consultant due to an escalation in her condition, but the mother was not informed until she received a phone call on the set date from a midwife.

The induced labour was then cancelled as the midwife believed it was “a mistake.” The next day the unborn child died in the womb.

Baby would probably have been born alive

Following a successful medical negligence claim brought by Hudgell Solicitors Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Trust admitted that had the mother been induced on the set date her baby would probably have been born alive.

The mother, who was expecting her third child, said she didn’t feel listened to by the maternity professionals at Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

I was worried about my baby, but I felt like I was treated as a pest.

I had a condition which can be serious, but no one was really concerned. We were that close to having her, and then we lost her; it destroyed us.

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‘My client lost her child because of substandard treatment’

Hudgell Solicitors’ Samantha Gardner, a senior solicitor specialising in neonatal and stillbirth claims, led the case:

It is clear my client lost her child because of substandard treatment. There was a breakdown in communicating the plan for the inducement and there was a failure by the consultant to discuss the change of date.

Had my client been aware of it she would have been better informed and would have chased to be induced on this date and she would have attended straight away when the midwife called.

When we looked at the Trust’s medical records it was also clear there was inadequate documentation and failures to follow official guidelines.

‘The consultant made the decision without even speaking with me’

It was in 2019 that the mother was diagnosed with obstetric cholestasis 28 weeks into her pregnancy. She was already assessed as high-risk by the hospital’s medical team as she had developed the condition in a previous pregnancy.

Obstetric cholestasis causes a build-up of bile acid in the body and one symptom is a mother’s skin becomes very itchy without there being a rash.

Guidelines state that high acid levels can result in stillbirth and a planned birth, either by being induced or by caesarean, should be considered.

The mother had been told her induced labour would be at 37 weeks and a date was set for 4th August. But in June, after a review found her acid levels remained high, her consultant made the decision to bring the induced labour forward at 36 weeks.

This was not discussed with the mother, and she was not informed of the new date.

The consultant made the decision without even seeing me or speaking with me. I was already frightened about my daughter and would have had her as early as possible.

If I’d known the date had been brought forward, I would have been there and not left until she was born.

‘I never felt properly listened to’

On the day the mother should have had her induced labour a midwife called her and based on the minimal notes on her medical records, questioned whether the induction was too early.

“When she called and said, ‘you’re booked in for an induction’; I knew nothing about it and said it was actually for the following week.

“She asked if this was my first pregnancy and I said ‘No, it’s my third’.

“I asked if I should come in, but she said ‘No, it must be a mistake’. She didn’t check with anyone and put the phone down.”

The next day the mother went to the maternity assessment centre reporting reduced fetal movements and an ultrasound scan revealed her baby had died.

When they were listening for my baby’s heartbeat I just knew straight away. Then there was the scan and I just started to cry as I knew we had lost her. When she was born later, she looked perfect.

The mother says the maternity care she received fell short throughout her pregnancy.

“I never felt properly listened to and I felt my concerns were ignored. If you have obstetric cholestasis, you should be getting your blood checked regularly, but I had a midwife telling me I didn’t need them checked.

“One time I told her, ‘I’m not leaving until it’s done’, on another occasion my blood test was cancelled, so I called and said, ‘Please can I come in?’ as my acid levels were high, but they said ‘no, they are falling’. I was scared to death.”

‘They are not going to get away with this’

The mother says she also told the maternity team at Birmingham Women’s Hospital she was increasingly worried about a stillbirth as her itching was unbearable compared to her previous pregnancies.

But, she says, no-one acted on her concerns and there was a lack of awareness of her condition which she believes was due to poor training.

The mother received counselling for the loss of her baby, and it was more than a year later when she decided to take legal advice.

At first, I felt guilty about the loss of my daughter, I felt I had done something wrong. But then I said to my mum ‘they are not going to get away with this’.

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Trust subsequently carried out an investigation into the stillbirth and eventually admitted mistakes were made.

It was a kind of relief, that it wasn’t my fault. I also wanted justice for my daughter because she really should be here with us; but her life was snatched away.

It stays with you, even now after five years, I think ‘she would be starting school,’ another milestone. She’ll be with me always.

Breakdown in communication

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Trust admitted that “a breakdown in communications”, and “a lack of continuity of care from the medical team,” led to the stillbirth and agreed to pay £38,000 in damages.

It admitted the induced labour should have occurred as planned on 27th July 2019 in view of the patient’s high blood acid levels – putting her at increased risk of stillbirth.

It also admitted that the method of reviewing documents on its digital system was not consistently followed and the change of the induction date should have been discussed with the medical team.

Samantha Gardner said: “This should have been a special time in my client’s life. Instead, due to The Trust’s failings, it became one of the worst imaginable which left my client devastated as it was preventable.

My client has shown enormous strength to get the answers she needed and deserved as to what went wrong and why. These cases are never about compensation; mothers and their families want Trusts to be accountable for their actions and learn from their mistakes.

This Trust has acknowledged and identified its failings and given assurances it will continue to strive to achieve the highest possible standards of care.

Hudgell Solicitors tells MPs a public inquiry into birth injuries is crucial

Our client is one of many mothers supporting Hudgell Solicitors campaign for a Public Inquiry into NHS maternity services with the aim of securing transformational change in the levels of care and support for mothers and children.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on birth trauma was told the number of potential clients who believe their NHS maternity care was substandard continues to increase.

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.

Read more here: Hudgell Solicitors tells MPs a public inquiry into birth injuries is crucial following ‘surge’ in client cases

Losing a baby during pregnancy is a heart-breaking and distressing experience that can have a long-lasting impact on all involved.

Sadly, bereaved parents can sometimes be left feeling their baby’s death could and should have been avoided, and that the medical care they received fell short of expected standards.

Our team of stillbirth and neonatal death claims specialists can support parents in terms of how to make a complaint about their care, help them seek compensation, and, if needed, ensure a thorough investigation is held into what happened and why.

Find out more: Experts in Stillbirth & Neonatal Negligence Compensation Claims

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