Brain injuries at birth covered by national media

The incidence of brain injuries at birth has been covered in several newspapers, with controversy over the term 'normal birth' and the high volume of NHS clinical negligence claims.

  The debate began with a story that ran in The Times covering the end of The Royal College of Midwives (RCM)’s campaign for ‘normal birth’, which started in 2005. The media picked up on the RCM promoting birth without medical intervention, which includes emergency caesarean, induction, instruments or epidural. This campaign attracted criticism for two main reasons - making some mothers feel they had failed and for the potential for unsafe births. Speaking to The Times, Professor Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said the 'normal birth' campaign had "created the wrong idea" but denied that the policy had compromised safety. Opponents to promoting 'normal birth' cited the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ Each Baby Counts programme, which found 500 to 800 babies die or are left with serious brain injury every year because something goes wrong in labour. The ‘normal birth’ campaign also attracted criticism following an inquiry into the deaths of 11 babies and one mother at the Morecambe Bay trust between 2004 and 2013, which found midwives’ desire for normal births at any cost had contributed to unsafe deliveries. In response to media coverage (also in the Telegraph and the Guardian) and social media debate, the RCM clarified: “The RCM discontinued its Normal Birth Campaign three years ago in order to launch a wider Better Births Initiative. In a review of our website in May this year, references to the campaign were removed, as they were out of date.” Explaining how the organisation’s stance has shifted, the RCM continued: “The Normal Birth Campaign was focused on birth. The Better Births Initiative encompasses pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. The Better Births Initiative seeks to improve care for all women, including those with medical and obstetric complications.” The RCM’s Cathy Warwick also responded with a blog about the ‘intense debate’. Media coverage continued, with brain injury at birth covered on the front page of the Daily Telegraph and in The Sun the next day. One point made was that maternity claims currently make up half of negligence suits against the NHS. NHS Resolution annual report data (published May 2017) confirmed ‘whilst the obstetrics speciality accounted for only 10% of the 10,686 claims received, they represent 50% of the £4,370 million value of claims received.’ This is an increase on 2015/16, when obstetrics accounted for 10% of the total number of claims and 42% of the value of claims. NHS Resolution said ‘These types of claims include cases where a child tragically suffers brain damage at birth and as a result they will frequently have complex life-long care needs.’ Helen Vernon, chief executive, NHS Resolution, stated in the organisation’s annual report: “Incidents arising in maternity continue to dominate our expenditure due to the very high value of claims arising from brain injuries at birth. These incidents can have a devastating impact on those involved and we must do everything we can to learn from what happened.”
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