Damning new data has revealed that errors during childbirth are to blame for hundreds of children born with cerebral palsy over the past decade.
An analysis of more than 1,000 NHS negligence claims shows that serious mistakes include delayed delivery and maternity staff missing the signs of foetal distress and failing to respond to the umbilical cord being wrapped around a baby’s neck.
The study, by law firm Lime Solicitors, reckons that errors leading to cerebral palsy-related claims costs the NHS an average of £493million every year in compensation and legal fees.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that occurs when a baby’s brain is starved of oxygen during or shortly after birth.
In most cases, this is due to a difficult labour, but it can occur as a result of an infection of the brain or head injury.
An analysis of more than 1,000 NHS negligence claims shows that serious mistakes include delayed delivery and maternity staff missing the signs of foetal distress and failing to respond to the umbilical cord being wrapped around a baby’s neck
Those with the condition may experience difficulties with movement and co-ordination, as well as loss of speech, hearing and vision and spinal deformities, and may need lifelong care.
Disability charity Scope says an estimated 1,800 children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy in the UK every year.
Robert Rose, head of clinical negligence at Lime Solicitors, said: ‘Regrettably, I have seen many of these mistakes before. We know the lessons that should have been learned, but unfortunately, time and time again, the same faults are made.’
In 2020-2021, 281 cases of preventable cerebral palsy were reported – the highest number since 2010 and a fifth of the ten-year total.
The study comes amid a series of recent inquiries into preventable baby deaths in maternity units.
In March, an independent report revealed that 201 babies and nine mothers died because of decades of failings at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.
Two months later it emerged that the senior midwife behind the report, Donna Ockenden, was also leading a review into maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust following dozens of baby deaths.
And last week, an inquiry into the quality of care at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust concluded that at least 45 babies died over the past decade due to mistakes and ‘suboptimal’ care.
WHAT IS CEREBRAL PALSY?
Cerebral palsy is the name for a set of conditions affecting movement and co-ordination stemming from a problem with the brain that takes place before, during or soon after birth.
Symptoms are not typically obvious immediately after a child is born — but instead normally become noticeable after two or three years.
They include delays in reaching development milestones, such as:
- not sitting by eight months;
- not walking by 18 months;
- appearing too stiff or too floppy;
- walking on tip-toes;
- weak arms or legs;
- fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements;
- random, uncontrolled movements;
Difficulty speaking, swallowing or seeing — along with learning difficulties — can also be symptoms.
Cerebral palsy symptoms can be caused by a number of things and are not necessarily an indication of the condition, which can occur if a child’s brain does not develop normally while in the womb, or is damaged during or soon after birth.
Causes include bleeding in the baby’s brain, reduced blood and oxygen supply, infection caught by the mother while pregnant, asphyxiation during a difficult birth, meningitis or a serious head injury – though the precise cause is often not clear.
There is no cure currently, but physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and medication are often used as treatment.
Each person living with the condition is affected in a different way, but generally speaking most children live into adult life and some can live for many decades.