NHS maternity services under pressure as negligence bills soar
In February 2011, Claire Lesko gave birth to her daughter Luna. An hour later the baby girl collapsed and a month later the parents made the heartrending decision to turn off her life-support machine.
Since then a coroner’s inquest has recorded a narrative verdict and said the care was negligent. There was, it was concluded, a blockage in Luna’s airway and there was a “failure to perform the required observations, in particular observation of skin colour”.
Claire and Tony Lesko are now taking legal action against Lewisham Hospital. Not because they want to but because they do not feel satisfied with the responses to their complaints and because they do not want it to happen again.
And they are not alone. A report from the National Audit Office today says that medical negligence claims are rising. While it points out that the majority of women have a perfectly fine experience giving birth, when it does go wrong it goes catastrophically wrong. Babies either die or are left severely disabled.
The NAO figures show that insurance cover against clinical negligence bills now makes up one-fifth of all spending on maternity services in England: £482m in the last year alone, or the equivalent of £700 for every birth.
Although the government says the numbers are improving, today’s report also says the NHS still has 2,000 fewer midwives than needed, a rising birthrate and not enough consultants.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “We are many thousands of midwives short of the number needed to deliver safe, high-quality care.”
Births are becoming more complex as well, placing more demand on midwives and maternity services.
But the case of Luna Lesko shows that parents still struggle to get answers when something goes wrong. They claim they had to apply for the baby’s notes and were told they would have to pay for them. They say there was a conflict between what the midwife said happened and what they believed had occurred. They were supported in the end by a nurse who was on the ward at the time – something Mrs Lesko said was a brave decision.
The couple have now had another baby. Milan is just over a year old and is, of course, a complete joy to his parents. But it does not take away the pain of Luna’s death, and the fight they have had to prove negligence has only prolonged that agony.
In a statement, Lewisham trust said today: “We would like to apologise to the family of Luna Lesko and express our deep and sincere regret for what happened. We recognise that mistakes were made and we have made changes to prevent similar incidents taking place again.”
Clinical negligence lawyer Nicola Wainwright, of Leigh Day, said: “If standards of care were better, then clients wouldn’t be suffering injuries and wouldn’t be coming to see lawyers. To bring a claim we have to show incompetent care, and if a case is won that is because of incomeptent care.”
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