Monday, August 28, 2006


More than 300 babies a year are being left with brain damage because of oxygen starvation caused by lack of proper care at birth. The National Health Service litigation authority, which handles damages claims from hospital patients, has for the first time released data from every hospital in England showing the number of babies damaged by botched deliveries. The accidents are being blamed on staff shortages leading to inadequate monitoring.

In the 12 months to April more than 300 families began legal action for severe injuries suffered by their babies. In most cases the damage means children are unable to walk, talk, feed themselves or have any hope of independent life. In the same period medical staff reported a further 174 incidents through a system to help budget for legal claims.

Legal costs and damages for victims reached a high of nearly 175m pounds in the last financial year, but the real costs are said to be much higher because special education, nursing care, continuing health problems and social services are not included. In the five years covered by the data there were 2,763 claims. Of the total, 6%-10% are estimated to be from mothers whose reproductive organs were damaged. Another small group relates to failures to diagnose conditions such as Down's syndrome. Most are children whose brain damage was caused because hospital staff did not deliver them fast enough when the babies were suffering oxygen deprivation.

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, come days after a report condemned childbirth services at Northwick Park hospital near Harrow, northwest London, for failures that led to 10 new mothers dying between 2002 and 2005. The new figures show the Northwick tragedies are not an isolated problem.

Jane Rodrigues, 34, from Dartford, Kent, blames the damage suffered by her two-year-old son Louis on the fact that midwives had failed to recognise that her 4ft 10in frame would have difficulty delivering the 10lb baby she was about to produce. She almost bled to death when her uterus ruptured. Her baby was classed as stillborn but was resuscitated.

He has been left mentally handicapped, unable to walk or talk. "I am sad and angry for him," she said. "He is going to be dependent on other people for the rest of his life." She is pursuing a complaint against Darent Valley hospital in Dartford. The trust has apologised but denies liability.

The cost of such accidents is exemplified by cases such as that of Nathan Hughes. In May he was finally awarded 1.65m pounds, plus 315,000 pounds a year for life, to pay for his needs because the medical team delivering him 14 years ago at Rush Green hospital, northeast London, failed to notice he was being strangled by his umbilical cord. "These disasters happen again and again," said Eve, his mother. "I found out later that the hospital where he was born was known by doctors as the `spastics factory' because of the number of birth injuries."

Others believe the real number of children affected is even higher than the statistics show. "I have certainly met people with damaged babies who have said they don't have the strength to take on the NHS," said Karita Massara, whose son Jack, 9, was awarded 850,000 pounds this year for injuries suffered during a botched delivery at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, London. "When you are looking after a disabled child, it is physically and emotionally exhausting."

Scope, the charity that works for cerebral palsy sufferers, estimates that up to 13,000 people or 10% of Britons affected by this form of brain damage suffered avoidable birth trauma.

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