Staff shortage blamed for birth injuries

Posted: 18th October 2012

A four-year-old girl whose lawyers blame her devastating birth injuries on staff shortages on the maternity ward at a Norfolk hospital has won the right to multi-million-pound compensation from the NHS.

Hospital TrolleyHollie Smith was born at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on March 2 2008. Her mother’s pregnancy had been uneventful and, following failed attempts at delivery using forceps and a ventouse extractor, she was born by emergency caesarean section. Although she was in apparently good condition, she began fitting 24 hours after delivery and it emerged that she had a fractured skull.

Hollie suffered brain damage and, through her mother, sued the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust which, whilst denying responsibility for her injuries, agreed that she should be compensated on the basis of 85% liability.

The amount of Hollie's damages has yet to be assessed, however her lawyers confirmed outside the High Court that the extent of the care she will need for the rest of her life means that she is likely to receive a multi-million-pound award.

Her legal team argued that, following the expectant mother’s arrival at the hospital on March 1 2008, the decision was taken to cease inducing her labour ‘to postpone delivery for the convenience of staff in the delivery suite’.

The mother was said to have endured seven hours in the second stage of labour before her baby was delivered the following morning. It was argued that the skull fracture was probably caused by the difficulty in delivering her head during the caesarean birth.

Hollie's barrister said: ‘The delay in the maternity unit that night left my client to undergo a needlessly protracted second stage of labour. There was a shortage of midwives that night and pressure of work.’

Observing that the hospital was under an obligation to provide Hollie and her mother with a reasonable standard of care, the barrister added: ‘It is not at all clear that enough midwives had been rostered that night in the first place.’

Defence counsel emphasised that there had been no admission of liability by the NHS Trust and told the judge: ‘At no point on either side have the actions of individual midwives on duty that night been criticised. They all did their level best in difficult circumstances’.

The judge said that he approved the 85% liability settlement ‘with reluctance and distaste’ before wishing Hollie and her mother all the best for the future.