NHS trusts throughout England have experienced a number of burdensome setbacks in recent years. The country’s healthcare system is known for being widely understaffed and poorly organized from the top down, leading to a growing culture of litigation that shrouds patients in a dark cloud of confusion and frustration when care goes awry. The cost of litigation for medical blunders has been the focus of reform within NHS trusts over the past decade, with the latest call to action aimed at helping a growing, but vulnerable, population of patients: expectant mothers and their newborn babies who experience loss due to poor-quality care.
Each year, nearly 1,000 newborn babies die or suffer from complicated brain injuries due to lackluster medical care that includes some degree of avoidable harm. In recent months, the Safer Maternity Care plan – specific recommendations set forth by the Better Births report – laid out a variety of suggestions on how to decrease the issue within NHS trusts, including the following:
- Funding for advanced, ongoing training for doctors, nurses, and medical staff on what quality maternity care entails
- An innovation fund established with the intent of producing new ideas surrounding quality maternity care and what that looks like within various NHS trusts
- Safe spaces for medical providers to share not only best practices but challenges faced in certain maternity care cases
- A rapid resolution and redress (RRR) scheme intended to reduce the amount of time and resources used to compensate families who have suffered from avoidable harm cases during pregnancy or birth
While the announcement of the Safer Maternity Care plan shows promise for the population of patients in need of quality pre- and post-natal care, the added focus of streamlined compensation comes with a bevy of concerns.
The Problematic Case of RRR
On average, families who have suffered the devastating blow of a child born with severe brain injury or the death of child due to less than quality maternity care spend more than 11 years going through the litigation process and court system with NHS in an effort to receive answers to questions and compensation to offset the slew of challenges they now face. The lengthy process of litigation not only weighs heavily on the family from an emotional perspective, it adds up to a half a million pound bill for the NHS each and every year. The rapid resolution and redress scheme is intended to reduce both burdens significantly.
Families who have suffered from an avoidable harm case relating to maternity care will be given the option to avoid the lengthy and costly litigation process by instead consulting with an expert panel on what fair compensation might be for their loss. The unfortunate truth is that realistically evaluating the true and accurate cost of avoidable harm cases takes time and a deep understanding of the prevailing circumstances – not a fast-tracked discussion that leads to a check in hand.
Building on the issues surrounding the viability of the streamlined rapid resolution and redress scheme, a representative from a team of medical negligence solicitors, explains the ancillary problem with avoiding litigation culture. “Families who experience a loss due to poor quality maternity care are rarely motivated by compensation alone. Instead, they seek answers as to why the problem took place, and they want their provider or the NHS to take ownership of avoidable harm. The rapid resolution and redress scheme may not fairly promote the level of transparency families need during this time.”
The Safer Maternity Care plan is already on the move in seven cities throughout England, with a recent announcement of early adopter sites that will roll out trial approaches to implement the new recommendations. Community-focused care plans, more personalized treatment, and an increased ease for accessing services are all on the docket for these seven cities, and the addition of the rapid resolution and redress scheme may not be far behind.
Reducing the number of avoidable harm cases is a pressing concern among NHS powers, but a sole focus on compensation after the fact may not be the most promising answer. Instead, the enhancements to maternity care throughout NHS trusts that are focused on better training, innovation, and open and honest discussions should be the aim. Putting the growing population of expectant mothers and their newborn children and the care they receive as priority number one is a more thorough method of achieving greater quality maternity care for the long term.