Having previously worked as the manager of a maternity unit in a London hospital, and now supporting many families after life-changing mistakes have been made in care during pregnancy and birth in my legal career, I was delighted to attend the launch of Baby Lifeline’s ‘Monitoring For Mums’ appeal last night.
The mother and baby charity, which campaigns for greater standards of care on maternity wards across the UK, has long been a cause I have fully supported, and I have personally provided training for the charity around the avoidable errors which I see sadly being repeated on maternity wards across the UK.
These are mistakes due to both the poor standard of monitoring equipment being used in hospitals, and through maternity staff not being fully trained in using the equipment effectively.
These are avoidable errors which sadly cost lives, or leave babies severely impaired and needing lifelong support and care which can only adequately be secured by legal action and substantial compensation agreements.
The work Baby Lifeline has done over the past 35 years in raising money to improve standards has been incredible, raising millions of pounds since being founded by registered nurse Judy Ledger to provide new equipment for hospitals, and to provide vital training to both the medical and legal professions.
However, the new campaign launched at its Gala Dinner at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in London last night has, in my opinion, the potential to surpass all of its previous work and make a hugely positive difference for future generations.
It was therefore great to see the night be such a success, and win the support of celebrities including Dame Barbara Windsor, long-term charity supporter Elizabeth Emanuel, patron and Coronation Street star Jimmi Harkishin, and Doctor Who star Georgia Moffett, amongst others.
In calling for a new national standardisation of in-house maternity training in hospitals across the UK, Baby Lifeline is tackling the heart of the problem head on.
The charity has done great work in collating information from a total of 125 UK hospital Trusts with regards to the maternity training they provide in-house for staff each year, and how that training is managed and then assessed.
The results are somewhat shocking and certainly concerning, and should be enough to make Government ministers listen and ensure that the improvement of maternity care across the UK does become a priority, as has been so often promised by so many.
Over half of Trusts admitted to providing four days or less of in-house mandatory maternity training every year, with many having a heavy reliance on e-learning and poor, or non-existent, evaluation of training programmes.
There is no consistency over which areas of maternity care are being classed as ‘mandatory’ for training at Trusts, and only 50 highlighted newborn screening as part of their in-house training programmes.
Less than a quarter of Trusts highlighted teamwork and communication in obstetric emergencies as being part of mandatory training – something I find shocking given poor communication is a common theme in the cases we at Hudgell Solicitors handle when things have gone badly wrong. Added to this, the research has also highlighted how training is delivered in different ways from Trust to Trust, with no clear standardisation of topics, duration of training, method of delivery, frequency or assessment.
There is simply not a formula setting out clear standards to be achieved across maternity care, and having no agreed practice to assess training methods is certainly not a platform from which national standards can be continually raised.
Baby Lifeline, through this campaign, has highlighted a clear need for change, winning the support of leading consultants, professional obstetricians, anaesthetists, neonatologists and midwives representing the NHS across the UK.
It has also combined this call for standardised training with a unique fundraising appeal which allows people to donate and raise money towards purchasing equipment for maternity units at their local hospitals.
This follows requests from more than 80 Trusts for support this year in buying new maternity unit equipment, with the newly launched website, which we at Hudgell Solicitors have supported, listing the equipment required by each individual hospital, the total money needing to be raised, and providing a simple way to donate.
It really is fantastic to see a charity working hard to identify the real issues affecting the quality in maternity care in the UK – in this case equipment and training – and then devising a coordinated campaign to tackle both together.
I personally know there are so many excellent midwives and clinicians going above and beyond their duty and what is written in their contracts to deliver the very best service each and every day, but they are being undermined by poor equipment and a lack of investment in training.
I have spoken to midwives who work in fear of the next serious mistake happening, and these are the kinds of pressures which can lead to highly-skilled, much needed medical professionals leaving the health service. It is simply unfair to continue putting them under so much pressure.
In the majority of cases we handle, mistakes are not those of individuals alone. They are supervision and system failures, and failures of organisations.
Litigation against the Trusts which fail patients is not always popular, but it is unfortunately a must in situations where there have been failings, because not only does it provide those who suffer with vital financial and rehabilitation support, but it also sharpens the focus of those managing budgets and running units, who at present, don’t always make improving standards a top priority as they look to make savings.
Without being held to account, changes to working processes are often not made, mistakes – which the statistics show costs lives – are brushed under the carpet only to happen again.
Hudgell Solicitors will continue challenging this situation through our role in supporting patients, and we’ll support Baby Lifeline all the way in holding Government to account on their pledge to halve the number of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and brain injuries in babies in the UK by 2030, with a 20 per cent reduction by 2020. Big changes have to be made if those targets, which are achievable, are to be hit.