Medical Law Experts Say Lessons From Case Should Be Shared Across NHS
By Helen MacGregor
The devoted parents of a seven-year-old boy left with severe brain damage after midwives made a ‘catalogue of errors’ during his birth have spoken of their relief after a High Court Judge today approved an £8.5m lifetime care package.
Midwives at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, failed to monitor Alfie Buck’s heart rate for over 12 hours during his mother’s labour and failed to deliver him by emergency caesarean which would have prevented his brain being starved of oxygen.
Alfie, whose intelligence was largely spared by the brain damage, has cerebral palsy and suffers with painful spasms. He is now completely reliant on a wheelchair, communicates using technology and is in need of 24-hour-support.
An investigation by medical experts commissioned by lawyers at Irwin Mitchell who represent parents Samantha and Andrew Buck from Horsham, found that had Alfie been delivered just 20 minutes earlier, it is highly likely he would have been born without any brain damage at all.
The firm secured a full admission of responsibility and apology from Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in 2011 leading to the settlement which was approved at the High Court in London today and will be managed by Irwin Mitchell’s Court of Protection team.
It will fund a new wheelchair accessible home for the family with space for live in carers and cover rehabilitation such as physiotherapy, transport, education and a lifetime of specialist equipment and technology and care.
Medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell Jane Weakley, who specialises in representing children who have suffered catastrophic brain injury, paid tribute to the dedication of Alfie’s parents who have fought tirelessly on his behalf.
She said: “Alfie’s family have shown tremendous devotion and support to help him achieve the best quality of life possible over the last seven years, but the fact remains that his brain injury is so severe he needs specialist help from professionals.
“Our investigations showed that midwives were aware that Samantha was at risk of developing high blood pressure, but failed to provide basic midwifery care through monitoring and record keeping, resulting in irreparable brain damage. It was tragically a catalogue of errors.
“The settlement agreed today shows how complex Alfie’s care needs are and ensures he has access to the huge level of support, specialist equipment and therapies he will need as he grows into adolescence and adulthood.”
In a letter sent to the family from the Chief Executive of the Trust in 2011, he apologised for the insufficient monitoring of Samantha’s labour and for the failure to deliver Alfie by emergency caesarean. He added: “I acknowledge that had this been done Alfie would have been delivered unharmed.”
He went on to say: “I wish to assure you that the Trust has learned lessons from the failure of this care.”
Samantha said: “Alfie has a great sense of humour and his brother and sister dote on him.
“The cerebral palsy affects all his limbs making movement very difficult, but his mind is very bright and he can communicate by using specialist equipment that tracks eye movement. He continues to amaze us and his teachers at his specialist school and he truly is an inspiration.
“Having said that, caring for a child with Cerebral Palsy has to be the toughest job in the world as it is 24/7 and consumes your life.
“Not long after he was born the doctors told us brain scans showed severe abnormalities and it was hard not to be bitter or angry. It just felt very unfair as Alfie didn’t deserve it.”
She added: “We have tried to give Alfie the best quality of life possible but the older and bigger he gets, the more his care needs increase. The settlement gives us peace of mind that he will always have access to the best possible treatment, equipment and services. We were also relieved to hear that the Trust has learnt lessons and hope these will continue to be implemented by all midwives.
“Nothing can turn back the clock or improve Alfie’s condition, but we can now all look to the future and concentrate on enjoying life as a family knowing we’re equipped to deal with whatever the future holds.”
Jane Weakley at Irwin Mitchell added: “This case was about securing Alfie’s future, but the family were also keen to see that steps were taken by the Trust to ensure the same mistakes couldn’t happen again.
“We hope any lessons that have been learnt here are shared across the NHS and improvements are made in midwifery training and staffing levels.”
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to cerebral palsy