Nottingham Maternity Negligence: Baby Death Was Preventable

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH) has made what is believed to be a record-breaking settlement following a medical negligence case involving the trust’s maternity unit at Nottingham City Hospital. The story was reported by the BBC.

Sarah and Jack Hawkins received a £2.8 million pay-out following the stillbirth of their daughter, Harriet, in 2016. Mrs Hawkins was 41 weeks pregnant, and in labour for six days. Tragically, Harriet had died nine hours before delivery.

The couple were told afterwards that there was no obvious fault, and their daughter had died from an infection. The couple refused to believe this and launched their own investigation. Two years after the birth, an external inquiry identified 13 failures, concluding that the death was “almost certainly preventable.” These failures included failure to properly record and pass on information, failure to follow guidelines, and delays in treatment.

The impact on the couple has been severe. They had both previously worked for the Trust, Mr Hawkins was a consultant and Mrs Hawkins a physiotherapist, but neither felt able to return to their employer. They were unable to hold a funeral for their daughter for nearly two years and faced a five-year battle for justice. Both parents expressed sadness that the Trust had not been “open or honest”.

Unfortunately, the Hawkins are not the only couple to experience tragedy at the Trust. Recent investigations have revealed a long-running series of incidents, suggesting that there might be many more parents and children impacted by poor practice in the maternity unit.

A joint investigation by Channel 4 and the Independent in 2021 found that, since 2010, 46 babies had suffered brain damage, while another 19 had been stillborn. The BBC has identified at least seven preventable deaths of babies between 2015 and 2020, and that, in the last three years alone, there have been 34 investigations at NUH following adverse incidents in the maternity unit.

While, sadly, tragedies are sometimes unavoidable, the NHS has robust procedures to follow after an adverse event. These should ensure that they learn from the event and are open and transparent with the people involved and affected. The aim, of course, is to prevent a recurrence. Unfortunately, it appears this has not happened at NUH, and many of those tragedies could and should have been avoided.

The Care Quality Commission rated both NUH’s maternity units, at the Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital, as inadequate, a reflection of its concern about the safety and leadership of the units. In making the assessments, they noted that staff had not always been fully trained, the staff were working under pressure due to shortages, and that there was little evidence managers monitored performance.

Although the number of incidents may be a small fraction of the births at the units, the Trust cares for around 10,000 mothers a year, the investigations may uncover more examples of medical negligence from the last decade.

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