Hunt promises to end maternity ‘blame culture’

Families who suffer problems during childbirth as a result of failings in care could claim compensation without legal proceedings under new proposals.

The DH said there is a danger that clinicians are being discouraged from speaking openly about mistakes which led to births going wrong, including children developing disabilities, out of fear of litigation.

It said it would open a consultation on introducing a rapid resolution and redress scheme, which would investigate incidents. Where harm was found to be avoidable, it could offer families regular financial support without the need for legal proceedings, as well as counselling, case management and legal advice.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, said: “Our NHS maternity staff do 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 and 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.

“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.”

The National Maternity Review, published earlier this year, found that half of all term stillbirths had one element of care that required improvement and may have made a difference to the outcome. It also recommended more personalised care.

NHS trusts will also be encouraged to learn from mistakes and share their findings with other trusts, and the department will consult on developing a ‘safe space’ where clinicians can speak about mistakes without fear of litigation.

In addition, an £8m fund will be available for multi-disciplinary safety training for staff, with at least £40,000 available to each trust.

A £250,000 innovation fund will help create and pilot ideas for improving maternity care, while a Maternal and Neonatal Health Quality Improvement Programme will allow trusts to exchange ideas and best practice

CCGs will all receive a rating for their maternity services, to provide more transparency and provide pregnant women with more choice.

The department also launched ‘Our Chance’, a public information campaign to raise awareness of stillbirths and what can be done to prevent them.

Furthermore, the department promised that the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch would be in operation from April 2017.

James Taylor, head of policy and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said: “Finding out that your child has been affected by a birth injury can be a very traumatic time for parents.

“So 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.”

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JAN TURNER   17/10/2016 at 14:01

My daughter was brain damaged at birth and the impact on her life has been traumatic to say the least. But yet I was informed I should have put in a complaint within a certain time,which was impossible as we did not find out how her condition came about years after the said set time limit. Really feel that when I gave birth I knew something was not right but I was told not to worry and after that it took me years to find out the truth but by then it was too late.

Pauline Hull   19/10/2016 at 19:25

It's the 'normal birth' culture that needs to end. The RCM, RCOG and NCT have put policies in place for decades to increase the number of 'normal births' - in the full knowledge that death and injury are entirely 'normal' in the birth process. The government may not want families - who have a lower tolerance of risk than at any point in history - to 'blame' the NHS when medical intervention is not used, but blame they will, and rightly so (look at the number of maternity litigation cases where a delayed or absent caesarean is cited). It's not the litigation culture that needs to end - it's the policies put in place to reduce caesarean rates to arbitrary and unsafe levels. The science exists to prevent more stillbirths but 'medical intervention' is not deemed 'normal' in pregnancy. The NHS LA needs to consider how it will achieve its goal of 'promoting safety' while maternity wards are still being CQC assessed and rated according to their successes in 'promoting normality'.

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