Discussion with Libby Purves OBE of Times Radio, March 31, 2022
Libby: Now the long battle by individuals to get an investigation into maternity services. Not only at the disgraceful Shrewsbury and Telford NHS trust, which was dangerous over 20 years with preventable deaths of babies, by the hundred, loss of mothers, life-changing birth damage. All those battles at last paid off in the Ockenden report and its conclusions made the Health Secretary say that sweeping changes will take place in maternity services right across England. But it was, as I say, initiated by individuals in their own grief, calling out the failures in care and then finding others and joining up together to back it up. Kim Huggins is on the line – is a solicitor at Devonshires Claims who works on clinical negligence cases. Kim. Good morning.
Kim: Good morning. Libby good morning, Stig. Thank you for having me this morning.
Libby: Now, Will you tell me how a case will begin in your experience? What sort of approach do people make and what have they done before they start consulting lawyers?
Kim: Obviously every case differs massively. Normally, it gets distraught parents coming to us, having suffered what they consider to be negligence. It’s our job, obviously, to look into whether that is the case. But it’s certainly never a quick process. Oftentimes they’ve already gone to the trust to find answers and invariably, that’s all these people want, they want answers to what has happened so they can understand. If something’s gone wrong, they want people to own up, they want an apology. Oftentimes they don’t get that more often than not they don’t get that. And it makes them angry and they feel that they have to fight. They have to fight to find the truth. And of course, they have to fight to get the care and support and whatever needs they have dependent upon their situation. So it’s a very lengthy process. But it’s often shrouded by barriers to the justice, and that’s why we’re here.
Libby: People do meet a refusal to engage by some trusts. Don’t they? A sort of an absolute blank wall. I’ve always assumed that I would always try to ask a hospital first and ask the questions if you don’t get those answers, that’s when the lawyers come in. Isn’t it?
Kim: Yeah. I mean, obviously, before it gets to us, there’s often a lot of toing and froing between parents or, anybody in any type of case. Trying to go back and forward, back and forward. And the trusts as has come out in this report and others historically that they don’t like to listen. They don’t like to accept errors. And this is a sweeping generalisation across all of the NHS I appreciate. But it’s very much – let’s put the barriers up and pretend it didn’t happen and move forward to the next one.
Libby: Is it fair to say that these maternity cases, because they are so very harrowing, I mean, the loss of a baby is an immense thing. The emotion in these is very high and this must make things rather difficult when you actually have to try and sieve out what has really happened. Was it sloppiness? Was it checks not made? What kind of culture is this? They’re particularly hard aren’t they? These cases, maternity cases.
Kim: Gosh, absolutely. All cases come with a certain piece of emotion. But when you’re talking about loss of a baby loss of a new mom and also living patients, brain-injured babies, that have got challenges for the rest their lives, there’s high emotion from everybody. So obviously our job is there to try and figure out. I always explain it as a jigsaw puzzle to my clients that I need to piece together all of the facts, not just the client’s views and what they think happened. I need to get to the nitty-gritty. Was it just simply an accident? And one of those things that couldn’t have been avoided or has something gone seriously wrong that needs to be dealt with
Libby: What Ockenden brought out was an interesting mixture of things which were going wrong at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS trust. There was a sloppiness with post-it notes, having vital data stuck on them, and then post-it notes get lost and checks not made, but also a culture of bullying spoken of, and that, of course, means people are afraid to speak up and acknowledge and call out mistakes. That must be something which you find sometimes that it’s just hard to get people to admit mistakes. And as we all know, in everything from aerospace to medicine, admitting mistakes is the way that things get made better.
Kim: Well, that’s it. I mean, I think that question there is quite multifaceted really in any type of occupation, you kind of feel like you have to ‘toe the line’ and, maternity service is no different. You don’t want to jeopardise your own job, but there’s a lot of wonderful people within the NHS that are there to do right by the patients. And it’s also reassuring to see that some of those are still coming out from the woodwork. And Donna mentioned yesterday that even in March, this year, just as they were putting the final pieces to the report, there were still staff members coming out saying, look, these things are still happening.
And it’s, mightily brave of these staff members to do it, but it shouldn’t have to be brave. It should be a natural thing to happen. We should be able to speak out and we should be able to raise questions if we have them and challenge our own bodies. I know in my workplace I’m happy to voice my opinion and that’s actually quite welcome. And sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m right. That’s how we all learn. And it’s that learning lesson that just doesn’t seem to be being acknowledged as a key factor in moving forward and providing a better service.
Libby: And finally, perhaps just briefly, what about accountability? I mean, five former bosses of this particular trust have moved on to profitable promotions and positions elsewhere within and beyond the NHS. From a legal point of view should people be held more accountable for past management failures and presiding over disasters like this?
Kim: I absolutely do. I think there should be more transparency as well. Being blunt to me, it seems like people, certain people, not many, but certain people can seemingly toy with people’s lives – cause utter mayhem a disruption and then move on to another role as though nothing has happened and potentially go on to do the same again there. In other professions, that doesn’t happen because of how transparent you have to be. Whereas again, in NHS you touched upon Libby, is that there there’s an element of shrouding. And until such time that we break down those barriers and start accepting and admitting, then the accountability is just going to fall by the wayside.
Libby: Well, indeed we have the, the example of the post office as well. So you would be in favour of better accountability in public services. Kim Huggins from Devonshire Claims Solicitors.
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