Baby Suffers Brain Damage After Language Barrier Misunderstanding


The Law Of…Making Sure Medical Advice Is Understood By Patients

A recent case saw a baby injured after language issues caused difficulties in communication between a patient and healthcare professionals.

Making yourself understood by healthcare professionals so that all of your questions and concerns can be answered and understood is crucial, not only to your peace of mind, but to your safety as a patient.

Agnieszka Marks, Medical Negligence Paralegal, explains the case.

The Judgement

In the recent High Court decision: Rajatheepan v Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Foundation Trust [2018] EWHC 716 (QB), the Judge ruled that the two day old baby, Nilijan, would not have been discharged home had his difficulties in feeding been identified and acted upon by medical professionals of the Trust.

This could have prevented the state of hypoglycaemia Nilijan went into, which ultimately led to brain injuries and cerebral palsy, all of which were avoidable. 

The significance of the Montgomery case, which concerned communication between the healthcare provider and patients when seeking the patient’s consent, has been emphasised in that it is applicable to the Rajatheepan High Court decision.  The Judge in the Rajatheepan case accepted the need for clarity and certainty between healthcare professionals and patients.

Difficulties Communicating

Mrs Rajatheepan, a Sri-Lanka’s national with very limited English, was required to have her baby by way of C-section. The baby was born healthy, receiving good APGAR scores.

Mrs Rajatheepan was initially convinced that her son could feed properly, however on the day of their discharge from post-natal care she raised concerns as her baby was having difficulties feeding and would not stop crying.

Her concerns were not taken into consideration because Mrs Rajatheepan and the healthcare staff could not communicate effectively with each other. Mrs Rajatheepan and her son had been discharged before medical staff could ascertain whether or not there was an issue with the baby's feeding.

The staff failed to listen to concerns the mother communicated at the time. They were dismissive of Mrs Rajatheepan because her limited English, and also failed to ensure the baby was healthy and able to feed safely. The comprehension of how to raise concerns was not made clear to Mrs Rajatheepan either.

The next day, the baby was admitted to the hospital with extensive brain injuries due to the insufficient level of glucose in his blood, stemming directly from his difficulties feeding.

Agnieszka Comments:

"Language barriers should not be a hurdle to the delivery of quality healthcare to those of limited English proficiency. Needless to say, effective communication throughout the patient’s encounter is essential in providing a high quality of health care. Language barriers can affect access to healthcare and impact a patient’s life."

"A significant proportion of patients being treated in the UK speak little or no English. Immigrants have often been identified with limited English proficiency, making them immensely vulnerable due to the language barrier and the often dismissive approach from health professionals due to their limited linguistic skills."

"Healthcare providers must ensure that people with limited ability to communicate in English (because their first language is not English) are nonetheless able to receive an effective quality of medical care. Accordingly, any communication difficulties due to language barrier should not impact on safety, effectiveness and patient focused health care. Illness and stressful life events including childbirth can impact on anyone’s ability to articulate their needs and concerns, but in particular those whose first language is not English."

"The responsibility to ensure effective communication lies with healthcare staff.  A patient’s wellbeing should never be compromised, especially due to an English barrier or difficulty in communicating."

Have You Had Difficulties Communicating With A Health Care Professional?

Language barriers between patients and doctors should never cause harm to the patient. Unfortunately, however, this does sometimes occur and can cause serious injuries.

If you have had difficulties voicing concerns or getting information from a health care professional due to your limited English, which then led to medical negligence, be sure to contact a member of our team today.

We can explain what your rights are in situations such as these, and what your options are if you have been seriously impacted by a breakdown in communication between yourself and a medical professional.

Call us on our freephone number today, or send us a secure e-massage on our digital enquiry form.

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