Medical Negligence

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Why Are Woman Still Dying In Childbirth?

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A devastated husband whose wife died in childbirth told an inquest last week that, “smirking midwives” ignored her pleas for a caesarean section[1].

Given the advances in medicine in the 20th and 21st century, no one would ever realistically think that a women could lose her life during childbirth.  But this is not the case.  Many children lose their mothers shortly after taking their first breath and sometimes this is the result of negligence by healthcare professionals.

Frances Cappuccini is one mother who only knew her child a few moments before her life ended.  After experiencing a difficult labour with her first child, medical experts advised her against a natural birth for any subsequent children.  She duly booked an elective caesarean.

Two days before the caesarean was due to take place, Mrs Cappuccini went into labour.  Her husband Tom told the inquest that she arrived at Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Pembury, Kent, on 8th October 2012, “certain” that she wanted a surgical delivery after advice from a consultant obstetrician at Maidstone Hospital.  

Mr Cappuccini said that midwives had “almost a smirk across their face” and were “almost laughing” when the couple arrived at the hospital and relayed the consultant’s advice. He told a coroner that the midwives told him and his wife, “not to make a decision based on pain and fear”.

Mrs Cappuccini laboured for 12 hours before delivering her child through an emergency caesarean.  However, doctors had left part of the placenta behind and she had to be returned to surgery.

While signing the consent form for the surgery to stem the heavy bleeding, she told doctors, “Just save my life.”

According to court documents, the placenta was removed and Mrs Cappuccini stabilised[2]

But tragically, just over four hours later her pulse and blood pressure dropped and although she was given various drugs to try and correct this, she had a cardiac arrest.  Various attempts were made to resuscitate her but they proved unsuccessful, and at 16:20 pm, she died.

Failings of an NHS Trust Hospital

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust became the first NHS trust ever to face corporate manslaughter charges, but a judge ruled there was no case to answer. The NHS trust has admitted liability and subsequently agreed compensation with the family, which is subject to an anonymity order.

“Failures, inadequate diagnosis and treatment" resulted in a woman's death after childbirth, the coroner ruled. Such a ruling provides comfort for the family but no amount of compensation can make up for the loss of a wife and mother.

What are the chances of dying in childbirth?

Although the UK is one of the world’s wealthiest countries, it has one of the highest rates of maternal deaths in the developed world, with women facing a one in 6,900 chance of dying in labour.[3]

A report by the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE), entitled ‘Saving Mothers’ Lives[4]’, highlighted that women in the UK who die during pregnancy or childbirth tend to be older, more socially disadvantaged, and have lifestyles that are conducive to poorer health.

As well as having the oldest average age of mothers at their first childbirth, the UK has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that teen mothers aged between 15 and 19 are almost twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than women in their 20s. Unlike older mothers, the maternal mortality of teen mothers is closely related to socio-economic factors[5].  Very young mothers are more likely to be poor, uneducated, have less access to healthcare and smoke.

Not having access to healthcare or not understanding the importance of pre-natal checks to screen for conditions such as pre-eclampsia, increases the risk of serious complications which can lead to death[6].

Obesity can also lead to a number of high-risk pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, thromboembolism, and cardiac disease.  Cardiac disease is the leading cause of death in childbirth[7].

Medical professionals sometimes miss the risk-factors that can lead to a woman dying in childbirth

CMACE stated in their report that despite clinical staff knowing about the risks, there was a, “failure by many clinical staff, including GPs, Emergency Department staff, midwives and hospital doctors, to immediately recognise and act on the signs and symptoms of potentially life-threatening conditions”[8]

The National Childbirth Trust has observed that many women can also expect to receive substandard care during pregnancy and childbirth due to a lack of multi-disciplinary treatment for women with complex pregnancies, poor management of higher-risk women and poor communication between different teams of health professionals[9].

The standard of maternal care received can also depend on whereabouts in the UK a woman gives birth.  Studies  have shown that death during childbirth occurs more frequently in London than in other parts of the country and this may be attributed to the shortage of midwives[10].

Socio-economic and educational inequality in the UK appears to be a leading factor in the high number of deaths in childbirth.  Age also appears to play a significant part; therefore, clinicians involved in childbirth, from midwives to obstetricians need to observe closely for signs that life-threatening complications could develop in pregnancy and labour and take the appropriate precautions.

How to obtain compensation for serious injury or death following childbirth 

At IBB, our personal injury team, led by personal injury and medical negligence expert, Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to claim compensation for death occurring in childbirth or any other medical negligence incident. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and treated with utmost sensitivity.








[7] Ibid




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