A couple whose daughter died before birth after failings by maternity staff have received a £2.8m payout from the NHS in what is believed to be the largest settlement for a stillbirth clinical negligence case.
Sarah Hawkins was in labour for six days before Harriet was stillborn, almost nine hours after dying, at Nottingham City hospital in April 2016.
Sarah and her husband, Jack Hawkins, who both worked for the NHS trust at the time, were initially told by hospital staff that Harriet had died of an infection, but successfully pushed for an independent investigation.
An external review of the case, published in 2018, found 13 failures on the part of maternity staff, including a delay in appropriate foetal monitoring and omission of antenatal advice, and concluded the death was “almost certainly preventable”.
“The fight for justice has worsened our PTSD and depression, so we’re unable to return to our careers. This settlement is basically payment for our career loss and for the psychiatric injury. We wouldn’t have been here if they’d listened,” said Sarah, who previously worked as a senior physiotherapist.
“All we wanted was for them to listen and to improve the maternity care, but they didn’t, so we had to keep fighting.”
Jack, who was a hospital consultant at Queen’s Medical Centre (QMC) in Nottingham, had his contract terminated at the end of 2018. “It plunged us into financial insecurity, in the midst of this trauma, and we had to borrow a lot of money,” he said.
Janet Baker, from Switalskis Solicitors, who represented the couple, said the award was the highest for a stillbirth case and that along with legal fees was likely to cost the NHS more than £3.5m. “[Sarah and Jack] don’t see this as a victory,” she said. “No amount of money could ever compensate for the loss of Harriet or for the way they were treated afterwards.”
An investigation by Channel 4 News and the Independent earlier this year found 46 babies suffered brain damage and 19 were stillborn at hospitals in Nottingham between 2010 and 2020, while the BBC found there had been 34 maternity investigations after adverse incidents at Nottingham University hospitals trust (NUH) since 2018.
In 2020, the Care Quality Commission found that the maternity units at QMC and Nottingham City hospital were “inadequate” and highlighted serious concerns including staffing, poor leadership and a culture that did not learn lessons.
Last year an inquest found a baby girl who died 23 minutes after being born may have survived if “multiple missed opportunities” were spotted by staff at QMC, in a “a clear and obvious case of neglect”.
Sarah and Jack Hawkins said that while they were relieved that an independent review of their case had helped them get the answers they needed, there were many other families still fighting for justice.
“This is just the start, because every month we have other parents contact us via social media saying: ‘This has happened to me, can you help?’ Because there’s no support for those parents,” said Sarah. “We’d like other families to come forward, so we can ensure change and there’s got to be a public inquiry as well.”
A spokesperson at NUH said: “We would like to reiterate our sincere apologies to Mr and Mrs Hawkins for failures in the care around the delivery of baby Harriet.
“Our maternity improvement programme has introduced a number of improvements, including better training and monitoring with renewed focus on the recruitment and retention of midwives and maternity teams to ensure that we offer the best services possible to every family in our care.”