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Midwives at greatest risk of NHS negligence claims

Midwives are more likely to be involved in clinical negligence cases than frontline staff working in other areas, the latest NHS research suggests.

Negligence claims involving obstetrics formed nearly two thirds of the damages claimed against the NHS in 2008-09, NHS Litigation Authority technical claims director John Mead said at last week’s Royal College of Midwives annual legal birth conference.

Obstetrics formed the biggest single category of claims made to the authority in that period -more than 20 per cent of the total. It was responsible for 60 per cent of the total cost claimed, said Dr Mead.

He told Nursing Times the role of midwives was central to many of the obstetrics claims brought to the authority.

He highlighted an NHSLA study, carried out last year, which found a midwife misreading cardiotocography (CTG) monitoring was a major factor in claims involving stillbirth - one of the most common reasons for a claim.

He said: “A CTG scan should have the foetal heart track and a maternal track. Midwives are trained but it is relatively easy sometimes to misinterpret a track. If there is anything that looks suspicious then obstetrics help should be requested.”

Mr Mead presented statistics at the conference showing 2.2 per cent of all stillbirths resulted in a negligence claim, with the NHSLA paying out in roughly three quarters of cases.

The average value of claims involving stillbirth in 2008-09 was £50,500. However, costs of cases where a baby is left with cerebral palsy can be up to £6m.

Bertie Leigh, a senior partner at legal firm Hempsons, which represents the NHS in many of these cases, suggested staff shortages might be one of the reasons for the high number of cases involving obstetrics.

He said: “There is a national shortage of midwives. This is partly due to many of them finding the job so stressful and unrewarding that they are leaving the profession. Others - often the best - get promoted into non-clinical roles.

“There is also a concern that the new pattern of training, whereby they do not have to do a general nursing qualification first, is leading to a narrower background,” he added.

But RCM education and professional development adviser Gail Johnson told Nursing Times the likelihood of a midwife having to appear in court was still very low but due to the publicity such cases attract “it can feel a bigger issue than it is in reality”.

Readers' comments (1)

  • “There is a national shortage of midwives. This is partly due to many of them finding the job so stressful and unrewarding that they are leaving the profession. Others - often the best - get promoted into non-clinical roles."

    The reason others get promoted is because they do not like being on the front line where they are at risk of being disciplined. Simple, those that do not get promotion leave, after staying in the profession long enough to get disillusioned.

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