It seems shocking to hear that people still bleed to death after childbirth particularly when we find out that their death was due to mismanagement.
An inquest is due to take place in November 2012 into one death, that of Rosida Etawaree at Croydon University Hospital (formerly Mayday Hospital) in June 2010. However there are wider concerns about the level of care in maternity units following an independent report in 2011 which showed an alarming number of maternal deaths.
11 women per 100,000 still die in childbirth and maternal death rates in London are higher than elsewhere in the country. I am currently handling one tragic case where a young mother bled to death after childbirth following mistakes by both Obstetricians and Anaesthetists. In her case the clinicians grossly underestimated her blood loss and failed to transfuse enough replacement blood even though it was available.
What causes these tragic human errors? In the above case it was simply medical mistakes by Clinicians and it is very difficult to understand why they made such glaring mistakes. One factor may be ‘groupthink’, that no one questioned one Clinician’s misjudgement but rather everyone just went along with assessments which were obviously wrong. In other cases it is staffing levels, particularly in the number of Midwives and senior Obstetricians on duty.
Increasing the number of Obstetricians is expensive but senior staff have in the past suggested to me that the health service would save a fortune in compensation payments to negligently brain-injured babies or the families of mothers who have died if only there were more experienced Doctors available. So aside from the human cost of these errors there may be an economic case for providing better staffing levels.
The inquest will tell us more about the failures that led to the death of Mrs Etawaree and it will be important that Croydon and other hospitals learn from past mistakes in the interest of providing better care in the future.
Paul Sankey is a Clinical and Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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