1000 newborn babies could be saved by groundbreaking NHS safety drive
More than 1,000 babies a year could be saved every year under “ground-breaking” plans to reduce stillbirths, Jeremy Hunt has said, warning that too many women are being robbed of the “magical moment” of parenthood.The Health Secretary said Britain needed to do far more to improve monitoring of women in labour in order to tackle its “shocking” place in international league tables.Promising extra funding for safety training, and new ratings of maternity services, Mr Hunt said the UK had higher rates of stillbirth than Poland, Croatia and Estonia.“We are in the bottom third of a global league table of 164 countries for progress on reduction of stillbirths,” he warned, in a speech in London. Last week, a report by the Care Quality Commission found that 37 per cent of maternity services were “inadequate” or “require improvement”.In November a national study found half of stillbirths occurred after women contacted maternity units because they were fearful that their baby’s movements had slowed, changed or stopped.In almost all such cases units failed to properly investigate the warnings, while others botched their attempts to monitor the baby. Announcing a new fast-track compensation scheme for those affected by maternity blunders, he said a more open culture was needed so tragic failings were not covered up, only to be repeated.“We need to make the NHS the world’s largest learning organisation – so that the precious time of doctors and midwives is spent focused on mothers and babies, not lawyers and courts,” he said.Describing the “magical moments” when his three children were born, he contrasted his experiences with the parents bereaved by the Morecambe Bay maternity scandal, where at least 11 babies died.“Each recounted how medical notes or records had been tampered with or described how instead of honesty and willingness to learn from what went wrong they encountered a wall of obfuscation and denial,” he said. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. More than 1,000 lives could be saved if every NHS trust could match the performance of the best in this country, the Health Secretary said.Mr Hunt said training programmes in Bristol had resulted in a halving in the number of babies starved of oxygen.If changes were achieved nationally, it would mean 100 fewer severe birth injuries annually, saving the NHS £2.8bn a decade, he said. If the rest of the country matched progress in West Midlands, it would mean at least 1,000 fewer stillbirths each year.Mr Hunt said midwives needed to do more to listen and act when concerns were raised by mothers-to-be. ‘It is very positive that the Government will be listening to disabled people and their parents on how the NHS can better support families when serious issues do occur during birth’James Taylor, disability charity Scope Baby Joshua Titcombe died after hospital staff failed to provide antibiotics for an infection Under the current negligence system, it takes an average of almost 12 years for families to see a resolution to their case.The new voluntary scheme, based on a model used in Sweden, also aim to reduce the amount spent on lawyers.Since 2004/5, the value of claims against NHS maternity units for brain damage and cerebral palsy has risen from £354m to £990m, official figures show.The cases – often linked with a failure to monitor babies’ heart rates, to detect risks of oxygen starvation – fuelled maternity negligence claims of more than £1.2bn in 2015/16.In total, almost 1,100 maternity claims were lodged last year, official figures show.The most expensive involve cases of brain damage and cerebral palsy, where round-the-clock support is often required for life.The amount spent settling cases rose by 30 per cent, last year, reaching £509.3m.Meanwhile, overall NHS spending on claimants’ lawyers rose by 43 per cent to £418m, data from the NHS Litigation Authority shows. Under the new plans, parents with a maternity claim would be able to join a voluntary “rapid resolution and redress” scheme.Their case would be assessed by investigators working independently from the hospital where errors occurred, who would question NHS staff and parents and look at medical records.Their findings would be presented to a panel of legal and medical experts who would decide whether compensation is warranted and arrange for payments to be made.Sweden has seen the number of avoidable birth injuries halve since it introduced the scheme. Britain has one of the highest levels for stillbirths in the Western world Credit:Dominic Lipinksi/PA ‘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’Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary The Government hopes the scheme – which would assess around 500 cases a year – will help dismantle what it sees as a “litigation culture”.The plans will also see the creation of an NHS Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, modelled on systems used by the airline industry, which will make maternity its first focus, and £8m funding for safety training.The plans, which will go to public consultation, will not “lock” claimants into the scheme, meaning parents could still launch a legal case against the NHS trust if they were not satisfied with recommendations of their review. The plans will also see new maternity ratings comparing hospitals, and extra funding for training and safety pilots.