Many English maternity units are not meeting safety standards putting mothers and babies at risk of injury and serious harm.

The BBC reports that statistics produced by the Care Quality Commission indicate that more than half of maternity units in England consistently fail to meet safety standards.

In September 2022, per the BBC’s analysis, there were reportedly 6 units deemed overall to be outstanding, 77 were good, 45 required improvement and 9 were inadequate. However, when specifically looking at ‘safety’, the picture is even more concerning. No maternity units were considered to be outstanding but 62 were rated as good for safety. However, 66 maternity units were found to require improvement meaning that they must take steps to reduce the risk of harm to mothers and babies, and to ensure that they are meeting their legal responsibilities on patient safety. There were 9 maternity units found to be inadequate and as such they must take urgent steps to improve their services and patient safety.

There have been a number of well publicised scandals involving maternity care at Trusts in England over recent years, in particular Morcambe Bay, Shrewsbury and Telford. More recently a review of maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust was commenced following a concerning number of babies dying or suffering brain damage.

Salisbury District Hospital is one of the hospitals at which maternity care “requires improvement” but it should be noted that some maternity units across Wiltshire, and beyond, have not yet been inspected this year.

One of the most recently reported issues in maternity services is the shortage of midwives. A midwife quoted in The Mirror recently said “It just feels so dangerously short staffed. I’ve had one unsafe situation after another, so much stress, no breaks and ridiculous hours. There’s only so much I can take”. In June this year the Royal College of Midwifery said that there were 677 midwives fewer than a year earlier. As reported, by the BBC, Royal College of Midwives chief executive Gill Walton says there is an “ongoing crisis in maternity services” and significant financial investment is needed. “Every time there’s an inquiry, there’s a flurry of ‘we’re going to do this, this and this. And then it falls off the agenda”.

Of course, sometimes things can and do go wrong, however, the risk of harm to mother and/or baby is significantly higher than it should be at those maternity units which are deemed to require improvement or have been found to be inadequate. The cost of things going wrong is huge to the families affected and also to the NHS. Last year in England, there were 10,284 negligence claims of which 1,243 related to substandard maternity care. Although the substandard maternity care claims account for only 12% of the total number of claims brought, the compensation paid out in maternity claims is expected to be around 60% of the value of all compensation paid across all medical negligence claims.

Claims involving substandard maternity care are financially expensive to the NHS because the injuries suffered and the consequences of those over injuries are often very severe. For example, a baby born with avoidable brain damage may well require 24-hour care for the rest of his or her life and survive well into adulthood.

Of course, it is only just that those who have been injured or affected are properly compensated. When a child is brain injured at birth, not only is the child themselves injured, but the parents of that child have to grieve the loss of what might have been and make substantial changes to their own lives and their families’ lives in order to adapt to the particular challenges and responsibilities of caring for a severely brain injured child. It is truly life changing and this is something that can never in any real sense be adequately compensated financially. However, financial compensation is both necessary and appropriate to try and ensure that the needs of the injured child will be met in future.

The cost of substandard maternity care to the NHS is potentially billions of Pounds, reportedly more than four times the collective annual salary of all midwives, obstetricians and maternity nurses. The answer is, of course, to improve patient safety. This is at the core of reducing the number of claims brought and the financial burden of this. Ultimately, if steps are not taken to sufficiently increase the ongoing staff shortages and to improve patient safety, the financial cost to the NHS will increase.

Read the BBC’s report here: Many English maternity units not meeting safety standards – BBC News

If you would like advice or assistance in bringing a claim regarding substandard medical care during labour or birth please telephone us on 0800 421 234 to speak to one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors. We have over 30 years experience in handling birth related and midwifery/obstetric claims.