Neonatal hypoglycaemia and Erbs Palsy costing the NHS millions in compensation payouts

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Figures obtained by The Guardian show that the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) has set aside £235.4 million to settle claims against the NHS involving babies with birth injury, including neonatal hypoglycaemia and the obstetric brachial plexus injury known as Erbs Palsy.

new born baby

The money is to settle 60 claims in which NHS staff failed to notice or monitor adequately feeding or blood sugar levels in newborns, leading to the rare condition neonatal hypoglycaemia.

Low blood sugar in newborns can cause brain damage and a total of 79 claims for undiagnosed or untreated hypoglycaemia in England have been received by the NHSLA in the last 10 years.

Of these, 19 resulted in no compensation being awarded, but in a further 19 cases, compensation sums ranging between £300,000 and more than £7m have been awarded. A total of seven cases have been settled with more than £6m in compensation for birth injury. A further 41 cases are still being processed by the NHSLA.

The money set aside is cover all costs, including legal fees and compensation, with the remaining cases potentially costing the NHS £166.1m in payouts.

Chief executive of the patient safety group Action Against Medical Accidents, Peter Walsh, said that a shortage of midwives was the main factor in an increase in cases of neonatal hypoglycaemia.

“Whilst these cases are relatively small in number, the fact the effects are so catastrophic and they are so preventable should make them a 'never' event in the NHS."

Neonatal hypoglycaemia can affect between one and three babies out of every 1,000 births – campaigners say doctors and nurses need to improve their monitoring of feeding and blood sugar levels in newborns. In two cases documented, newborns died as a result of low blood sugar.

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