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NHS failings could cost £235m

The NHSLA (National Health Service Litigation Authority) has set aside more than £200m to settle 60 claims against staff that were unable to spot hypoglycaemia in new born babies in their care. The lawsuits state that 2 babies died because their hypoglycaemia was so serious.

Babies who are at risk of developing hypoglycaemia should have their blood sugar levels regularly monitored via a heel prick blood test, according to DOH guidelines. However, blunders by maternity staff which have left many new born babies brain damaged are set to cost the NHS more than £200m. However, the amount may rise once the annual costs of lifelong care have been included.

NHSLA statistics reveal that in the past decade in England, it received almost 80 claims for harm to babies which related to either untreated or undiagnosed hypoglycaemia. Almost 20 were not deemed eligible for compensation. Damages of between £300K and over £7m have already been paid in 19 and more than 40 other cases are still being defended. 7 out of the settled cases involved damages of over £6m.

Although neonatal hypoglycaemia is rare, if it isn’t treated, the consequences can be devastating. In 2011 Louis Peers family received more than £7m in damages after they claimed that Birmingham midwives did not intervene despite him not feeding during the first 3 days of his life.

Lawyers, relatives and campaigners have all commented that the figures, and the terrible consequences of hypoglycaemia, emphasise the fact that doctors and midwives need to improve their monitoring of babies’ blood sugar levels immediately after birth.

The CEO of AAMA (Action Against Medical Accidents) has said that although there are a relatively low number of cases, the effects are so catastrophic whilst preventable, they should never, ever happen and it is essential that the NHS takes action to prevent these accidents.

Lessons need to be learnt, midwives correctly trained and the NHS need to ensure that there are sufficient consultants and midwives on duty to monitor babies properly. Although mistakes may be made by midwives, by far the largest factor in these negligence claims is a national shortage of midwives.

Angela Kirtley, a specialist in medical negligence has dealt with several cases said that her firm had been approached by the families of babies who sustained life altering injuries following medical staff failing to identify babies who are slow to feed. We are told far too often that parents’ concerns relating to a baby not feeding are not listened to by ward staff. Babies are being allowed to leave hospital far too early and in some instances before they have begun feeding properly.

Maternity staff need training and support to assist them in spotting the early signs of a baby becoming hypoglycaemic. Families are left heartbroken when they find out their baby has suffered an injury that could have been prevented simply by careful monitoring of their feeding and a simple blood test.

Cathy Warwick, RCM general secretary said that hypoglycaemia should be detected and prevented in the majority of cases. New mothers should also be educated in looking for the signs of the disease developing, and be allowed access to a midwife whenever necessary, whether still in hospital or after they return home, to make sure that it is identified and treated as quickly as possible.

She agreed that the midwife shortage may be a factor, and added that it is vital that women get enough postnatal care to ensure they are given all the information they need and seeing midwives often enough to identify these problems.
Some babies have higher chances than others of developing hypoglycaemia, namely those who are big or small or who are born early as well as those whose mothers are diabetic. These babies need a heel prick blood test every few hours until their blood sugar level stabilises, according to the DOH. Those with low blood sugar should be given extra feeds or IV sugar, where levels are kept level and normal, the outlook is good.

A DOH spokesperson said that neonatal hypoglycaemia should never be allowed to go undetected in a baby known to be at risk. Failures in these cases should be investigated to make sure mistakes are prevented in the future.

Louis Peers was left brain damaged after developing hypoglycaemia whilst he was still in hospital after he was born in 1999; he has a range of physical problems and cerebral palsy and is a student at a special school. His mother Christine, last year won over £7m from the NHS in order to pay for his life-long care needs.

She said that Louis was born via an emergency c section as checks revealed he had not grown for several weeks; he weighed 5lb 6oz at birth. Louis wouldn’t breastfeed for the first 3 days and the day after he was born, midwives told me that some babies don’t feed in the first day, particularly following a caesarean birth.

The next evening his mother became concerned when he changed from being vocal baby who screamed a lot to being unresponsive and lethargic. She was upset and asked midwife for assistance, although the midwife was reassuring, she told Louis mother that she had baby blues.

Sometime later somebody must have realised that Louis was struggling and took blood from his heel which showed his blood sugar levels were low and that he had hypoglycaemia. He was immediately transferred onto an intensive care ward for neonates.
The staff repeatedly asked for his name and despite the fact he hadn’t been named by then, Christine told them he was called Louis Alber because she didn’t want him to die without having a name. Louis was put onto a drip but had already sustained irreversible brain damage.

He needs to wear leg splints to support his ankles and legs and also has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He can only walk for about 15 minutes and then needs to be put in a wheelchair. He tries to run but is very clumsy and falls over due to impaired vision.

His intellectual functions are similar to that of a 4 or 5 year old; he has 5 year old twin sisters who are now overtaking him.

His mother says that she feels let down by the midwives and care she and Louis received.