Errors in maternity care that landed the NHS with a £3.1bn legal bill over 10 years are still being repeated, a new report has warned.
The study by the NHS Litigation Authority found there were 5,087 maternity claims between 2000 and 2010. It was the most costly type of litigation managed by NHSLA.
With increasing future care costs, the size of awards is only set to increase, the authority concluded.
The three most frequent categories of claim related to management of labour (14%), caesarean section (13%) and cerebral palsy (11%).
There were a total of 83 maternity claims where the main allegation involved a drug error, totalling around £9m.
The report recommended that risk management be improved at all levels, with NHS organisations regularly reviewing claims, complaints and incidents reports to look for patterns or error.
It added: ‘Recommendations for improving safety in maternity care, such as compulsory attendance at regular training sessions, especially for cardiotocography (CTG) interpretation, good communication between midwives, doctors and women, up-to-date guidelines for managing routine care and protocols to guide staff dealing with emergencies remain as relevant now as at any time in the past.’
For all settled maternity claims, the average time from the incident date to the date when the claim was resolved by the NHSLA was 4.32 years.
For claims with damages above £1m, the average time to resolution was 8.57 years, reflecting the more complex nature of the cases.
Chief executive of the NHS Confederation Mike Farrar said: 'This is an important and helpful report. We are fortunate in this country that maternity care is relatively safe but to keep it that way the NHS has got to keep learning and improving.
'We must in particular learn from the occasions where things have gone very badly wrong. You cannot turn back the clock on a tragedy but you can do everything possible to prevent recurrence by focusing relentlessly on minimising risks.'