Obstetrics and Medical Negligence
Although linked, the medical specialities of obstetrics and gynaecology comprise different aspects of female reproductive healthcare. Specifically, gynaecology covers the diagnosis, investigation and treatment of disorders, including oncology or cancer treatment.
In contrast, obstetrics focuses on managing pregnancies, confinement and labour as well as the health of new mothers immediately after the delivery of babies. In straightforward pregnancies, midwives play a leading role. Obstetricians deal with complications, as well as reproductive endocrinology and infertility treatments for couples who are experiencing difficulty in conceiving.
Occasionally, patients have consultations with obstetricians for counselling about infertility, pre-conceptual advice and fertility treatment. However, most obstetric consultations and treatments are antenatal, to manage patients’ pregnancies before labour starts.
Some of the circumstances that can lead to claims for obstetric and gynaecological problems include failure on the part of the medical professional to:
- Manage high risk cases appropriately, including pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH).
- Interpret scans correctly to ensure that there are no serious abnormalities in the foetus.
- Diagnose ectopic pregnancies promptly.
- Selecting an appropriate delivery method, opting for the use of forceps only when necessary.
- Interpret cardiotocograph (CTG) traces of the baby’s heart rate and recognise the need for birth by caesarean section, should it arise.
- Manage performance of the delivery, especially the third stage of labour to avoid unnecessary damage to the mother and baby.
- Avoid damage during caesarean sections, particularly to the patient’s bladder, uterus and bowel.
- Suture episiotomies correctly
Unfortunately, in severe cases, errors in obstetric care can cause injuries both to the mother and to the unborn baby. Possible outcomes include cerebral palsy, Erb’s palsy (also known as obstetric brachial plexus injury or OBPI), dislocated hips and, in the worst cases, death.
In addition, there are two types of wrongful birth case. Firstly, a negligence claim might occur because of errors in contraception, sterilisation, vasectomy or improper termination leading to the birth of an unplanned baby. Secondly, a valid claim could relate to new parents who were unaware of the likelihood or presence of a disability in an unborn child and – as a result – were unable to consider whether to prevent or terminate the pregnancy.