Families of children who have suffered birth injuries may find claiming compensation easier under a new scheme announced by Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
The new Rapid Resolution and Redress Scheme, which is out for consultation, would investigate the 500 cases of avoidable harm to babies, during birth, which happen each year in England.
Under the new voluntary scheme, children suffering from cerebral palsy or brain damage as a result of medical error will have a fast-track to obtaining compensation without having to go to court.
Moving away from the ‘blame culture’
Mr Hunt recently stated that NHS maternity staff, "did a fantastic job under huge pressure, but even though we have made much progress, our stillbirth rates are still amongst the highest in Western Europe."
He went on to say, "many on the frontline say there is still too much of a blame culture when things go wrong - often caused by fear of litigation or worry about damage to reputation and careers."
The Rapid Resolution and Redress Scheme is designed to mitigate the fears of medical staff surrounding the admission of mistakes in childbirth situations for fear of having a compensation claim brought against them. In doing so it is hoped that lessons can be learned to reduce the incidences of tragic mistakes leading to devastating infant brain injuries and cerebral palsy.
How the scheme will work
The scheme is based on a model already used in Sweden. Parents whose newborn has suffered a birth injury which is suspected to have resulted from medical error will have their case assessed by specialist investigators working independently from the hospital where the case occurred, who would question NHS staff and parents and look at the detail of the 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 catastrophic birth injuries halve since the introduction of their scheme and it is hoped UK hospitals will see the same results.
Mr Hunt has pledged that, "These comprehensive measures will give practical support to help trusts improve their approach to safety - and help to foster an open and transparent culture so that the courts become a last resort not an automatic first step.”
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.
Words of caution
Leading medical negligence lawyers have welcomed the announcement of the new scheme but have also warned that it is not a ‘magic bullet’ and in claims involving birth injuries it is impossible to provide a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
All hospitals are required to have processes and procedures for ‘Serious Untoward Incident’ (SUI) investigations which must be invoked where there may have been avoidable severe neurological injury or death. However, in some cases where the NHS Trust in question eventually accept an allegation of negligence or where a court finds negligence occurred, there has previously been a hospital SUI investigation concluding that the level of care provided was acceptable.
As such, it is imperative that when the conduct of the medical staff is looked into, all the facts of the case are uncovered and a thorough independent investigation is carried out.
Additionally, to be truly effective, compensation awarded under the scheme must be full and fair - not a cut-price offer. Payments must be adequate enough to provide for what is sometimes a lifetime of care and dependence. If what is offered does not provide the funds that are needed then claimants need full, unfettered recourse to the courts.
Contact our claims experts today
Any birth injury compensation scheme that reduces claimants stress and the time it takes for them to receive much-needed funds is welcome. An experienced medical negligence solicitor can work with you to assess whether or not the Rapid Resolution and Redress Scheme (when in place) is right for you and your family.
The introduction of this scheme is to be applauded, but there are limits to what it can achieve. Whilst the Government may wish to speed up the compensation process, there is a risk that families will be under-compensated, if attempts are made to value a claim relatively quickly. Compensation should meet the needs of the individual child although the precise needs of a young person will not be known for some years. Therefore, it will remain important that families obtain good legal advice from an experienced solicitor, to ensure they achieve full compensation, rather than settling early and with reduced compensation from the NHS.
At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim for birth injury caused by medical negligence. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.