More than 1,400 mistakes are being recorded by maternity staff in hospitals in England each week on average. For some families, those errors can have life-changing consequences.
“Every single day we have to live with the fact that we’re a victim of the NHS,” Adam Asquith tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.
Adam and his fiancee, Sarah Ellis, were expecting their first child in 2014.
“When I first fell pregnant, everything was amazing. We were over the Moon,” Sarah says.
When she went into labour, the pair headed to Calderdale Royal Hospital, in Halifax.
But once there, Sarah was left waiting on a busy maternity ward – even though she told staff she was concerned she couldn’t feel her baby moving.
“We were left for six hours, we didn’t really know anything, they just told us and reassured us that everything was OK,” she says.
Gino was finally delivered by Caesarean section.
But Sarah and Adam’s joy quickly turned to despair.
“One of the doctors pulled me to one side and just said, ‘He’s not in a good condition, he was born in a really bad condition, and if he does pull through, he’s going to be very badly brain damaged,'” Adam says.
“I was in the corridor with Sarah’s mum and dad and I just said, ‘How am I going to tell Sarah that he’s not all right?'”
Gino was placed on a life-support machine. But just days later, Sarah and Adam were advised to withdraw treatment.
“The words used were that he was ‘unrecoverable’ and that was when we knew he wasn’t going to get any better,” she says. “We had to make a joint decision that we would turn the machines off.”
The inquest later showed Sarah should have had an emergency Caesarean section hours before she finally did.
A report found medical staff had failed to act on warning signs and Gino had been severely starved of oxygen.
The coroner said the hospital had missed four opportunities to save Gino’s life.
“Everyone makes mistakes – I do, we all do – but to see so many people make so many different mistakes within six hours is just shocking,” Sarah says.
“People who you put your trust in, your life is in their hands, and Gino’s life was in their hands and they didn’t take care of him.”
Sarah and Adam decided to take legal action against the hospital trust and were paid compensation.
“Every single day I think, ‘Why? Why us?” Adam says.
An investigation by the Victoria Derbyshire programme has found an average of more than 1,400 mistakes a week were recorded in England’s NHS maternity units between 2013 and 2016.
Figures from 81 NHS trusts out of the 132 in England – obtained through a Freedom of Information request – showed 305,019 adverse incidents had been recorded in the four-year period.
These incidents are when unexpected harm, injury or death has occurred, and include anything from records being lost to a mother or baby dying.
Figures from 39 trusts, for the same four-year period, showed 259 deaths of mothers or babies had been recorded as avoidable or unexpected.
In April, the BBC revealed that England’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had ordered an investigation into a number of deaths and other maternity errors at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust.
Seven baby deaths, later deemed as avoidable, took place at the trust between September 2014 and May 2016.
Angry for life
Jade Penny, 26, is currently suing her local hospital trust, after her eldest son was left with cerebral palsy.
Lucas, now seven, was born three months prematurely, cannot walk or talk and is partially blind and deaf.
Jade’s lawyers argue that Lucas’s brain damage is due to a lack of oxygen when he had his incubation tube replaced. The NHS trust is defending the claim
“Imagine laying down and not being able to breathe, but you can’t tell someone,” Jade says.
“It must be the most horrible thing to go through ever, and he couldn’t tell anyone.
“I think that’s what upsets me the most.
“He’s still alive, but he doesn’t have the quality of life that other kids have.
“For the rest of my life, I’m going to be angry. And I’ll never ever forgive anyone for that.”
The NHS trust is defending the claim.
The Department of Health said it could not respond to the figures regarding maternity ward mistakes due to the pre-election purdah period.
But it said plans were in place to halve rates of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries in babies by 2030.
As part of that, the government has launched a new £8m maternity safety training scheme.
Writing in October, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government had invested almost £40m since 2010 to make “tangible physical improvements” to maternity units.
He said: “Dedicated and hardworking NHS staff do an incredible job – 24 hours a day, every day of the year – of bringing new babies into the world and achieving great outcomes for women, newborns and their families.”
The Royal College of Midwives says safety is being compromised by the pressure maternity services are under.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the college, said: “The simple truth is we do not have enough midwives working in them right now, we are also seeing more leaving the profession because of stress and a slight reduction in the number of student midwives training.
“We need to reduce the number of mistakes to an absolute minimum,” she added. “We can’t deliver the safest possible care if we don’t have enough midwives and doctors working here.”
Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.