HOSPITALS have forked out millions of pounds in damages over the last decade after “staff negligence” at childbirth led to cerebral palsy or brain damage.

Some 30 cases of clinical negligence were brought against three NHS trusts in Sussex between 2010 and 2021, leading to pay-outs of £105 million.

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust (UH Sussex), East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (ESHT), and Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (SSHT) settled 30 claims related to brain damage or cerebral palsy – at an average of £3.5 million in damages per case.

A further £15 million was haemorrhaged on legal fees.

The claims relate to cases where the primary, secondary or tertiary injury was cerebral palsy or brain damage.

Cerebral palsy can be caused when the brain temporarily receives too little oxygen during childbirth. It affects a person’s movement, speech, and co-ordination for life.

The Argus: A temporary lack of oxygen to a baby's brain during childbirth can have lifelong effectsA temporary lack of oxygen to a baby's brain during childbirth can have lifelong effects

Melanie Minter, head of clinical negligence at Mayo Wynne Baxter legal firm, said: “Hypoxic brain injury during childbirth, which is where a baby’s brain gets starved of oxygen, is one of the main causes of cerebral palsy.

“In some cases, this cannot be prevented. However, negligent mistakes by healthcare professionals can lead to a child sustaining a brain injury.

“Errors can include birth injuries, failing to respond to the umbilical cord being wrapped around a baby’s neck, delayed delivery, and missing signs of foetal distress.

“There is no doubting our NHS is a fantastic institution. But while the first duty of a healthcare system is to do no harm, sometimes things do go wrong, and care falls below medical standards.

“Lessons should be learned but unfortunately time and time again, the same mistakes are made. Clinical negligence claims play a critical role in safeguarding patients against negligent treatment.”

The Argus: The NHS has paid out to 30 cases in SussexThe NHS has paid out to 30 cases in Sussex

The figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information request by Mayo Wynne Baxter.

They also showed that nationally, one in 12 cases of cerebral palsy could have been avoided in the past ten years.

Trusts around the country have paid out £4.3 billion in damages and £613 million in legal fees, in 1,441 clinical negligence cases since 2010.

The Argus spoke with the three trusts in Sussex, all of which are unable to comment on specific cases.

Emma Chambers, director of midwifery at UH Sussex, said: “Each and every one of these cases is a tragedy for the families concerned, and so we have an absolute duty to support them at a desperately difficult time, and to fully investigate all such incidents.

"We take every opportunity to listen to our families and to learn from these incidents, and from others, including implementing recommendations made from national reviews.

The Argus: Trusts are unable to discuss specific casesTrusts are unable to discuss specific cases

“Ultimately our focus is on developing our maternity services and improving the quality of care that we provide parents and babies.”

A spokesman for ESHT said: “We take every opportunity to learn from our mistakes so we can improve the care we provide to our patients and their families.

“We also use the learning of others to improve the quality of our care, including implementing recommendations made from national reviews such as the report by Donna Ockenden for all trusts providing maternity services.”

Donna Ockenden is a care leader in the United Kingdom and a specialist in midwifery.

A spokesman for SSHT said: “We take each of these cases extremely seriously and our thoughts remain with the families affected.

“While it does not lessen the impact, we work incredibly hard to learn lessons when parents and babies do not receive the high standard of care, we are committed to delivering. We have made significant improvements in recent years and our maternity department has continued to be rated outstanding for the last three years.

“We continue to implement any learnings identified to keep mothers and babies safe and we meet all ten maternity safety standards under the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts.”

UH Sussex was formed in 2021 and is an amalgamation of Western Sussex Hospitals, and Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals.

It manages seven hospitals across Brighton and Sussex, including the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, and Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.

ESHT looks after five hospitals in East Sussex including Conquest in St Leonards, while SSHT manages five sites including hospitals in Crawley and Horsham.