Labour ward incidents and potential claims - Lessons learned from research

Ashcroft, B 2008, 'Labour ward incidents and potential claims - Lessons learned from research' , Clinical Risk, 14 (6) , pp. 235-238.

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This paper provides an insight into the underlying factors involved in potential cerebral palsy and/or shoulder dystocia claims. The research was undertaken to identify the root causes of 37 cases of birth asphyxia in term infants severe enough to warrant admission to neonatal care units in the north-west of England between 2001 and 2002. All available staff (n ¼ 93) providing care during critical periods were interviewed by the author using the cognitive interviewing technique. These included 81 midwives, two consultant obstetricians, eight registrars and two senior house officers. An expert panel consisting of consultant obstetricians, midwives, a consultant neonatologist and the researcher applied the Bolam test to identify instances where care had been substandard and injury caused as a result. Although the cases were often complex, covering more than one shift and over more than one stage of labour, the most dangerous time appeared to be during the night shift (19 cases, 51%), followed by the evening shift (13 cases, 35%) and then the day shift (five cases, 14%). The main problems include: failure to respond appropriately to signs of fetal hypoxia (26 cases, 70%); undiagnosed obstruction (22 cases, 59%), which was broken down into failure to identify cephalopelvic disproportion (13 cases, 35%); and shoulder dystocia (nine cases, 24%). Delayed resuscitation of the infant occurred in 26 cases (80%), and in 18 cases (49%) there was excessive and inappropriate use of Syntocinon. All cases involved human error, either through a delay or failure to take action, or taking inappropriate action. However, these were all underpinned and perpetuated by system and cultural errors present in the labour wards, such as allowing unsupported and inexperienced personnel to work in a position for which they lacked the necessary skill and experience. This was perpetuated by the customary practice of using unsupervised junior medical staff in a first on-call position for complications, and also of failing to sustain safe midwifery staffing levels. This in turn prevented support for more inexperienced staff. Consequently, when inexperienced midwives and obstetricians were left unsupervised in charge of complicated cases, it created accidents waiting to happen. When unsupervised and inexperienced paediatricians attended the birth of an asphyxiated infant, the child’s condition deteriorated further when they were unable to resuscitate it. If such system and cultural errors as these are not rectified, the current high rate of damaged babies is likely to continue.

Item Type: Article
Themes: Subjects / Themes > R Medicine > RT Nursing
Health and Wellbeing
Schools: Schools > School of Health and Society
Journal or Publication Title: Clinical Risk
Publisher: Royal Society of Medicine
Refereed: Yes
ISSN: 1356-2622
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Institutional Repository
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2011 11:21
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2022 11:05

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