A long-standing leader in innovative approaches to birth injury is about to go even further. Britain’s public health program, the National Health Service, established a new office in April to conduct independent investigations of medical malpractice.
Now, the newly-formed Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch will expand its work to include the thousands of maternal and infant injuries sustained every year in England due to mismanaged labors and deliveries.
New NHS Office To Investigate Birth Injury Cases
On November 28, 2017, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch will begin looking into unexplained cases of birth injury, The Independent reports. Hunt is looking to make drastic cuts in the number of mothers and children who are injured during childbirth every year.
In the coming decades, Hunt wants to cut the number of stillbirths, infant and maternal deaths and severe birth injuries of the brain in half. He’s also hoping to decrease the number of premature births by 10,000, force National Health Service medical facilities to report “brain injuries occurring soon after birth” and strike down legislation that prevents coroners from investigating full-term stillbirths.
His first step, however, is gaining a better understanding of the problem. That’s where the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch comes in. Improving investigations, Secretary Hunt says, is the best way to help medical professionals learn from the mistakes of other doctors, while supporting families who have been affected by medical negligence.
Improving Maternal Care Across-The-Board
“The tragic death or life-changing injury of a baby is something no parent should have to bear,” Hunt said in a speech on November 28, 2017, “but one thing that can help in these agonizing circumstances is getting honest answers quickly from an independent investigator.”
Leading the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch is Keith Conradi, a former professional pilot. The office is modeled, the Guardian reports, after the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, a department dedicated to investigating civil aviation accidents for which Conradi served as chief.
Speaking to reporters, Conradi set out his goals for the investigation of birth injury cases, saying, “every one of these cases represents a tragedy for the family involved and deserves the professional safety investigation that HSIB can deliver. Through working with families and staff and building the principles of national investigations, HSIB will report on what happened, why it happened and make safety recommendations to help improve maternity safety for the future.”
England Struggles To Stem Tide Of Birth Malpractice
While the rate of stillbirth in England has dropped by nearly 14% over the last seven years, a recent increase in severe cases of infant brain damage has worried health regulators. The average medical malpractice settlement in Britain has grown by almost 9% every year. Half of these payouts, which are covered almost exclusively by the National Health Service, are related to maternity care.
A Public Alternative To Private Litigation?
In May 2017, Secretary Hunt announced the first major reform to tackle this problem: the Rapid Resolution and Redress system. Instead of filing medical malpractice claims in civil court, parents would be able to send their case to a board of independent experts. After review, cases of birth injury deemed “avoidable” through better care would result in nearly-immediate settlements, which could be augmented by ongoing cash payments.
It’s not a replacement for the civil justice system, UK attorneys say. It’s an alternative course of action, another option that would stand alongside true medical malpractice lawsuits. Parents will still have the right to pursue damages in open court, although medical negligence claims can take an exceedingly long time to resolve in England.
Independent Office Could Save Lives
Unlike the Rapid Resolution and Redress framework, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch isn’t about finding fault or assigning liability. It’s about “the wider opportunities to learn,” the office’s website notes, and, ultimately, improving the National Health Service overall. While the bureau is funded by the Department of Health and currently runs out of the National Health Service’s Improvement department, its investigations are completely independent of these organizations.