Yesterday, the Government announced a proposal for a new scheme for compensating families whose children have suffered injuries at birth. The Department of Health’s announcement also included an action plan for “safer maternity care” which included a number of steps to attempt to give practical support to NHS Trusts to improve their approach to safety.
The ‘Rapid Resolution and Redress’ compensation scheme proposes to enable speedier resolutions to claims for compensation in cases where ‘avoidable harm’ has taken place during pregnancy, labour or after birth.
The scheme is intended to form an alternative to litigation, enabling eligible families to obtain compensation that offers support and regular payments without the need for them to go through a formal legal process.
A public consultation into the proposals will be launched in the coming months.
Whilst it is positive news that the Government is attempting to tackle issues relating to birth injury claims, charities and legal associations are treating this announcement with caution.
Peter Walsh, Chief Executive of the charity ‘action against medical accidents’, comments that “this also comes with a big health warning. The devil will be in the detail of these proposals. It is essential that any scheme compensates people fairly according to their individual needs rather than short changing them in return for a ‘quick’ settlement. The people investigating and making decisions about these cases need to be totally independent, and the families themselves need to be empowered in the process through the provision of specialist independent support and legal advice”.
Neil Sugarman, president of the Association for Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has said“we have yet to see the details of the consultation, but we will be reminding the Department of Health that children suffering cerebral palsy and brain damage at birth need round-the-clock medical care, specialist equipment and support for the rest of their lives”.
As other organisations have commented, the details of the scheme will be key and factors such as the impartiality of those investigating the claims, how the scheme will meet the needs of individual children, and how ongoing services will be guaranteed will be likely to determine its success.
But he insisted that parents who believe medical errors have caused severe damage to their children, such as cerebral palsy or brain damage, would still be able to take their cases to court if they wanted to. The new Rapid Resolution and Redress scheme, which is out for consultation, would investigate the 500 cases of avoidable harm to babies, during birth, which happen each year in England.