After a 16-year battle for compensation a woman from Lanarkshire, Scotland, has secured £5.25 million for her son who suffered brain damage during birth.
The decision from the Supreme Court, London, has significant implications for the doctor-patient relationship and promotes an open and collaborative approach to deciding on a patient’s individual treatment.
Nadine Montgomery, 40, claimed medical professionals neglected to give her proper advice which may have led to her son, Sam, being given a safer caesarean birth in 1999. Instead there were complications during delivery and Sam was born with severe disabilities in Bellshill Maternity Hospital.
The question was whether the health board went far enough in advising Mrs Montgomery of all the potential risks of giving birth to her son. She is small and a Type-1 diabetic. It is recognised that diabetic mothers can give birth to larger than average babies, which risks complications during traditional births, including shoulder dystocia, where the baby gets stuck.
Sam’s shoulder became stuck after the delivery of his head. The staff performed appropriate manoeuvres to release the shoulder, but during a 12-minute delay he suffered oxygen deprivation. This resulted in brain damage, leading to cerebral palsy and nerve damage to the shoulder, arm and hand.
During pregnancy Mrs Montgomery expressed concerns about her ability to deliver her baby naturally. Her obstetrician was aware of the risks of shoulder dystocia, but made a decision not to discuss this with Mrs Montgomery – or to discuss caesarean section as an alternative. Mrs Montgomery said that had she known of the risk she would have asked for a caesarean section.
Andrew Taylor, Clinical Negligence specialist and a partner at Birchall Blackburn Law, says: “In light of the decision, the UK’s health professions will have to carefully review their service procedures and protocols for discussing treatments with patients. Medical professionals will need to discuss in detail all the options open to a patient, including all the alternative treatments and any recognised risks.
“The Supreme Court made the right decision. For an effective and balanced doctor-patient relationship, full disclosure and a patient-centred decision about their treatment is essential. Without it, there is a risk of a failure of care. I’m currently dealing with a number of birth related clinical negligence cases that involve poor decision making and mismanagement of labour.”
In reviewing the case The Supreme Court judges said: “The only conclusion that we can reasonably reach is that, had she (the consultant) advised Mrs Montgomery of the risk of shoulder dystocia and discussed with her dispassionately the potential consequences, and the alternative of an elective caesarean section, Mrs Montgomery would probably have elected to be delivered of her baby by caesarean section. It is not in dispute that the baby would then have been born unharmed.”
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said: “We are pleased that the court has endorsed the approach advocated in our guidance on consent. ‘Good Medical Practice and Consent: patients and doctors making decisions together’, makes it clear that doctors should provide person-centred care. They must work in partnership with their patients, listening to their views and giving them the information they want and need to make decisions.”
If you have suffered as a result of poor standards of care, our specialist Clinical Negligence lawyers are here to help. We understand the worry and pain that medical mishaps can cause and will always handle your case sympathetically. For support every step of the way, contact us on 0800 614 722 or 0333 321 2192 from a mobile.