A Care Quality Commission (CQC) review has highlighted how major improvements are needed to deliver consistently high levels of care nationally, in both hospitals and within the community, for newborn babies and infants with complex health problems.
The review focused on problems before birth, such as the detection of health problems during pregnancy through screening and anomaly scans, the diagnosis and management of newborn babies with deteriorating medical conditions, and the management of infants requiring respiratory support in the community.
It drew on a sad case from 2001, in which baby Elizabeth Dixon was born prematurely, suffering brain damage as a result of missed high blood pressure. She died shortly before her first birthday in after a failure to correctly maintain her tracheostomy tube.
Many concerns were raised over aspects of Elizabeth’s care, and this review was undertaken to consider whether these areas of care have improved nationally since, or whether further improvements still need to be made.
CQC findings make concerning reading over continued risks to hundreds of babies’ health
Sadly, the findings have made concerning reading, in that a significant risk to hundreds of babies and children has been highlighted due to inconsistent practices and a lack of clear guidance on treatment nationally.
In its summary, the CQC said it had ‘found variation nationally, potentially due to the lack of national guidance about the management of at-risk babies and infants, and inconsistent processes to communicate information from one specialty team to another.’
Professor Ted Baker said the lack of clear guidance spread to packages of support for families with children who were ventilated at home, highlighting ‘serious inconsistencies’, not only in the way they were designed, but also with regards to discharge arrangements and the level of training and skills of some of the staff looking after those children.
As experts in handling cases of birth negligence, we at Hudgell Solicitors fully understand the difficulties many families face when a child has complex medical needs. We know how daunting it can often be for parents when liaising with the various medical professionals to reach the correct diagnosis and access the most appropriate services.
For many parents, it must have felt they were being badly let down by the medical profession when they have needed support, and clarity, the most.
New guidance protects patients and medical professionals from life-threatening errors
Too often in our work as medical negligence claims specialists, we see life-threatening errors made because there simply has not been clear enough guidance follow for medical staff to follow with confidence.
Break-down in communication is also a common problem, leading to completely avoidable errors being made. Quite simply, nothing in healthcare should be left to chance, and strict policies and procedures should be in place to ensure all patients – no matter what age or in what circumstance – receive the best quality care.
Such strict policies and clear guidelines not only protect patients, but also importantly the medical staff themselves, who in all circumstances want to provide the best care, but are often let down by poor direction.
In our experience, it is certainly the case that inconsistencies in the standard of care being provided nationally, or breakdowns in communication, can result in a poor outcome.
It is with that in mind that we are pleased to see these issues relating to this very vulnerable group of patients being highlighted in this review.
It is also pleasing to see it has resulted in firm plans for new clear guidelines to be developed, which should lead to improvements in the standard of care, and less avoidable serious illnesses and deaths across the UK.
The recommendations have been supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM).
Let’s hope today marks the start of better care and support for young people who need medical care to be the best it can be to help them make the best possible start to life.