Tragedy in childbirth

Sandra Patton of Ashton KCJ

Sandra Patton of Ashton KCJ - Credit: Archant

Legally Speaking with Ashton KCJ

Sandra Patton is a medical negligence specialist at Ashton KCJ Solicitors.

She looks at the emotive subject of what happens from a legal perspective when a mother or baby dies during childbirth.

The statistics revealed in 2015 revealed are quite shocking. In 2014 in the UK, one in every 216 births was a stillbirth and one in every 370 babies died within the first four weeks of life.

In the UK 357 mothers died during pregnancy or during the six weeks after between 2010 and 2012 and a report from Oxford University suggested that “half of deaths were in cases where improvements in care ‘may’ have saved the mother’s life”.


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Although the statistics are improving slowly, the impact when something goes wrong is devastating for the bereaved families. The questions we find almost all want answered are ‘Why?’, ‘How?’, ‘Could it have been avoided?” and ‘What can be done to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else?’. Those affected also want a formal apology.

Sometimes, the answers are easier to find than others. Generally when someone dies in unusual circumstances, a coroner investigates the cause of death through an Inquest. This will happen if a mother dies in childbirth, or if a young baby dies unexpectedly, but sadly the law dictates that Inquests are not held into the death of stillborn babies because they have not yet taken a breath independently from their mother.

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Despite improvements in medical technology, problems and symptoms during pregnancy or during the mother’s labour can be misdiagnosed or missed altogether.

Errors at this stage can have devastating consequences, resulting in death of mother or baby, or in baby being starved of oxygen and suffering irreversible brain damage.

Many people try to get answers for themselves and are often frustrated. They don’t initially seek legal advice because they think this will in no way compensate for the loss of the mother or baby who has died.

However, what is sometimes overlooked is the fact that having a lawyer alongside a family during an Inquest, or bringing a civil legal claim after an Inquest or where there is no Inquest, is often the most effective way to get answers, apologies or action taken by a hospital to prevent a repeat tragedy.

If you would like individual legal advice about any aspect of birth injury, we are recognised as regional specialists by Legal 500 and Chambers UK and will be happy to help.

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