Pregnancy and childbirth is a wonderful time for an expectant mother and father and perhaps the last thought would be for problems caused by clinical or medical negligence either during their pregnancy or whilst in childbirth.
Thankfully cases of negligence during pregnancy and childbirth are rare, as are other obstetrics problems. Soon to be parents shouldn’t overly worry, however it is important to know any possible risks and the facts surrounding pregnancy and childbirth should you be considering making a claim for clinical negligence.
Medical negligence during pregnancy
Mother and baby are at risk throughout pregnancy and childbirth from simple problems that can cause moderate injury to more serious injuries and complications that are life changing. Birth defects can occur for a number of reasons and when they could have been avoided, it can be even more upsetting.
The term ‘congenital disorder’ is used to describe an injury, disease or defect that begins around pregnancy and birth.
Many congenital disorders are unavoidable but with today’s advanced technology approximately half of abnormalities such as spina bifida and heart defects can be found using scans and blood tests.
However the technology and equipment is only ever as good as the person using or operating it.
When abnormalities and problems go undetected because of someone’s carelessness or negligence then this can cause increased pain and suffering, and possibly mean you have a claim for clinical negligence.
The limbs are usually the most affected by abnormalities. Defects include deformed or missing toes and fingers and club feet. Among the most common abnormalities to new-born children are heart and spinal problems.
Clinical negligence during pregnancy and childbirth can occur when scans and blood tests are mixed up, misread or the data misinterpreted and if an abnormality goes unnoticed because of the carelessness, incompetence or neglect it could be a case of ‘wrongful birth’. This is a situation where the parents are unable to cope with a child suffering with severe health issues and would have terminated the pregnancy if they had known.
Ultrasound technology has advanced in recent years. It is possible to detect and diagnose defects before the baby is due although there are still abnormalities that are undetectable. Some minor defects such as a hole in the heart can be left largely untreated however some defects can be life changing for all concerned.
Some medications when taken through pregnancy can potentially be harmful to a babies heart such as acne and anti seizure medications. There is a statistically higher probability that a baby will be born with heart problems to a mother that in her first trimester took ibuprofen.
Congenital disorders and birth defects are often the result of our genetic make-up and there is little we can do to avoid them but it is important to understand the difference between a congenital disorder or defect and medical negligence and malpractice.
Cerebral Palsy Conditions
Cerebral Palsy may be caused as a result of the oxygen supply to the baby’s brain being impaired of cut off for a period of time.
The name Cerebral Palsy covers the scope of the four stages of Cerebral Palsy which are spastic, ataxic, athetoid and mixed. The stages range in their treatment, treatability and severity.
All Cerebral Palsy conditions will affect motor skills from speech to overall intellect. Charities and organisations such as Scope are available to offer valuable help and guidance to those coping with the condition.
Although rare, Cerebral Palsy can sometimes be the result of clinical negligence so medical records should be checked to determine the cause.
Erb’s Palsy is also known as Brachial Plexus Paralysis and is caused when a baby is pulled during the birth which can damage the nerves in the arms. It is important to recognise the signs early to minimise the damage to the nerves. An injury of this kind can clear in the first few weeks but around 15% of babies suffer permanent injury to the nerves and do not go on to a complete recovery.
The recovery period can be increased with surgery, exercise and therapies. Groups such as The Erb’s Palsy Group can offer much-needed help and information for parents with a baby who has Erb’s Palsy.
Spina Bifida Injury
There are a number of things that can cause Spina Bifida which is a defect suffered because of a gap in the spine.
A family history of diabetes and obesity has been linked to spina bifida as well a folic acid deficiency which can be found in peas, brown rice and broccoli.
Some medication such as carbamazepine, valproate and lamotrigine can also affect the baby’s spine. These medications are used for mood disorders such as epilepsy. Your doctor should have advised you of this but if this was not the case it could be grounds for clinical negligence.
Ventouse and Forceps
If a baby becomes stuck in the birth canal during the delivery the Ventouse or Forceps method may be needed to pull the baby out.
A Ventouse is a piece of equipment that is vacuum assisted. It is attached to a baby’s head and gently pulled in an effort to deliver the baby.
Forceps are essentially tongs that go around the baby’s head to allow the baby to be gently pulled.
It is essential that doctors are aware of which method should be used as the wrong method could result in permanent injury to the baby.
The Ventouse if not used in the correct way can leave extensive scarring, whilst forceps if used incorrectly can cause nerve damage to the face resulting in the baby’s mouth to droop on one side.
Congenital Hip Dysplasia
A defect known as congenital hip dysplasia is a condition where the top of the thigh bone does not form a solid fit with the hip joint.
Although quite easy to diagnose it has been known to go undiagnosed through carelessness and negligence causing further injury. A child may well develop a limp due to the difference in the leg length. Other symptoms would be decreased agility and osteoarthritis in the future.
Injury to the Mother
Whilst the vast majority of pregnancies and child births are problem free, expectant mothers should be aware of conditions that could affect them and the baby and hospital procedures that may or may not take place.
There are a number of reasons why parents should be aware of things that could go wrong, firstly so they can do everything possible to ensure a straight forward pregnancy and child birth by following good lifestyle choices and also to be better equipped for unplanned eventualities.
An episiotomy is a small incision made into the perineum to make it easy for the baby to be delivered.
Although this incision is not that uncommon it should only be carried out in emergency situations such as when forceps are needed.
Following the birth the perineum should be stitched by a midwife. The cut can cause pain and discomfort for several weeks afterwards however if it was not required in the first place or stitched incorrectly it can lead to second or even third degree tearing. This can be a very painful injury and result in possible lasting damage.
Around 5% of pregnancies are affected by Pre-eclampsia and up to 40% of these are severe cases.
The condition normally affects mothers in the second half of their pregnancy and is thought to be caused by problems in the placenta which is the organ that provides blood and vital nutrients to the baby.
The most common symptoms of Pre-Eclampsia are high blood pressure and protein found in the urine. Swelling on the limbs and face together with pain below the ribs, headaches and vision problems can also be symptoms of Pre-eclampsia.
Routine antenatal appointments should pick up any signs of Pre-eclampsia but if left undiagnosed could be dangerous and even fatal. Around 1000 babies and 7 mothers die each year in the UK as a result of convulsions and seizures caused by eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia can only be cured by delivering the baby so induced labour will need to take place or a caesarean section may be required.
Often associated with Pre-eclampsia HELLP Syndrome can be a life threatening condition.
Symptoms include, headaches, nausea/vomiting/indigestion, and bleeding, shoulder pain or pain when breathing heavily.
Typical signs of HELLP Syndrome are, protein in the urine and high blood pressure.
Difficult to diagnose, it can be mistaken for other conditions such as Flu so it is vitally important to be aware of the condition and receive early treatment.
Epidural injections are given to mothers during childbirth to block pain from the lower body.
An epidural injection contains anesthesia and the injection is made in the lower part of the spine.
Epidural injections are quite common in difficult or protracted births. If an epidural injection is administered incorrectly it could be a case of medical negligence
It is the most popular method of pain relief during child birth. However in rare circumstances there can be significant and life changing complications if the epidural anesthesia is administered negligently.
Together with physical injury to the mother there are also psychological injuries that can be suffered such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder if unexpected and traumatic events occur during pregnancy and child birth.
Can I Claim Compensation for Clinical Negligence?
Claims for compensation can be made for medical and clinical negligence that happened during pregnancy and childbirth when it can be shown that acceptable standards of care have not been followed.
All medical practitioners have a lawful ‘duty of care’ that is owed to the patient. If the duty of care has not been maintained and you have been injured as a result, medical negligence may be claimed.
Whilst we put our trust into the hands of doctors and other medical professionals who perform their duties admirably, in some instances mistakes still happen. Like anyone else medical professionals are only human. However mistakes can be due to negligence and carelessness and if this can be determined then compensation can be pursued.
Our specialist medical negligence solicitors at Injury Claims Assistance can provide cost free help and assistance so please contact us today if you feel that you are entitled to make a claim for compensation.