National Investigation into Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring During Labour

A child who suffers a neurological injury due to the failure in identifying and responding to fetal distress may be entitled to claim compensation for medical negligence. Safety issues affecting fetal heart rate monitoring include the unavailability of the monitoring equipment, an inability to understand the equipment, and misinterpretation of the fetal heart rate.

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) has expressed concerns over the suitability of technology and equipment used to monitor fetal heart rate—following a review of babies born with suspected brain injury, neonatal deaths, and stillbirths in NHS-funded facilities.

The HSIB typically conducts independent investigations to identify risk factors and makes recommendations to improve safety in NHS-funded care. The recent investigation was launched to investigate the suitability and safety of technology used to monitor fetal heart rate during labour and birth.

In particular, the national investigation will:

  • Highlight factors affecting the choice of fetal heart rate monitoring devices.
  • Identify the existing variation in clinical practice.
  • Determine barriers and concerns to effective care using the continuous heart rate monitoring equipment.
  • Review engineering usability, equipment support, and training when using fetal heart rate monitoring technology.

The HSIB commented:

 “As part of our final investigation report, we’ll make safety recommendations to the appropriate national bodies in order to improve patient safety.”

Understanding Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring

Fetal heart rate monitoring refers to the process of assessing the rhythm and rate of a fetal heartbeat to evaluate the baby’s wellbeing. Healthcare professionals are required to identify any significant changes in the rate during labour, as it could be a sign of distress.

Most maternity wards use continuous cardiotocography (CTG), whereby external sensors are placed on the mother’s abdomen to measure contractions and fetal heart rate during labour. If the heart rate pattern is not normal, steps can be taken to treat the underlying problem—which may include low oxygen levels.

The healthcare professional will try to determine the cause of the abnormal rate and will decide on the best course of action to prevent brain injury, nerve damage, oxygen deprivation and death. Possible actions include changing the position of the fetus in the womb or instigating an emergency delivery (e.g., caesarean, vacuum-assisted) to prevent any harm to the child.

Accurate and continuous fetal heart rate monitoring is a significant factor in identifying problems and ensuring the well-being of a baby during labour. Unfortunately, healthcare professionals make avoidable errors when interpreting CTG results -which may lead to serious consequences.

Medical Negligence During Labour and Birth

Your healthcare professional is responsible for monitoring the baby’s heart rate or other vital measurements and taking the necessary steps to facilitate a successful delivery. These steps and processes should be in accordance with national guidelines which all maternity and medical care professionals are expected to be aware of and follow.

A deviation from these guidelines could result in serious consequences in the child’s development and potentially lead to devastating life-long injuries.

Whether the consequences of medical negligence are temporary, life-long, or even fatal—they are almost always traumatic to the family. Mistakes associated with a fetal heart rate monitor  often involve:

  • Improper installation and operation of heart rate monitoring equipment.
  • Misreading and misinterpreting the figures and data by the monitoring device.
  • Failure by the healthcare providers to identify abnormalities in time.
  • Failure to continuously monitor the fetal heart rate when necessary.
  • Failure to take the recommended or appropriate action when there are signs of fetal distress.

Compensation Claims for Medical Negligence During Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring

If medical professionals fail to monitor a baby’s heart rate accurately or respond to fetal distress in a timely manner this could result in birth injuries such as oxygen deprivation. Oxygen deprivation could lead to brain damage and conditions such as cerebral palsy, and will often require life-long care and support for the child.

Compensation for a child who develops cerebral palsy—which refers to co-ordination and movement disorders, which may occur with other conditions such as epilepsy, blindness, and learning difficulties—may help them access therapies, equipment, accommodation, healthcare, and other necessary support and rehabilitation resources.

The compensation payout for serious birth injuries, including brain damage, will need to ensure that a child’s current and future needs are factored in. Assessing compensation for a serious birth injury is often a complex process and it is vital to consult specialist birth injury solicitors with experience in dealing with fetal heart rate monitoring negligence and other serious birth negligence situations.

Contact our experienced birth injury solicitors today

If you feel that the care you or your child received prior to, during or after birth was negligent, you may decide to bring a claim in order to secure justice and compensation for you and your child’s injuries. Speak to one of our medical negligence solicitors who specialise in birth injuries.

Fetal monitoring tracing indicates fetal wellbeing and includes heart rate, heart rate accelerations, heart rate decelerations or they can indicate fetal distress such as late decelerations with decreased variability. When correctly interpreted, electronic fetal monitoring devices can warn nurses and doctors that something may be wrong and that intervention may be required. Unfortunately this is not always straightforward in practice. Mistakes in assessing the readings and using the fetal heart monitor occur regularly on UK maternity wards.

Devonshires Claims support victims of medical negligence by providing:

  • A free no-obligation case evaluation
  • A no win no fee agreement
  • A network of medical experts and specialist medical negligence barristers
  • Over 20 years’ experience in securing justice and compensation

Contact our experts today to start your free case evaluation. Call our birth negligence solicitors on 0333 900 8787, email or complete our online form.

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