Failure to Ascertain Baby's Position Leads to Catastrophic Injury

When doctors failed to ascertain a baby's position before a forceps delivery, the terrible result was an acute spinal cord injury to the baby, leaving him quadriplegic and unable to breathe without a ventilator.

The boy, who is now eight years old, was one of twins who were born ten weeks prematurely. His brother died within a fortnight of his birth.

The damage to his spine was caused by the blocking of a branch of the spinal artery. This was due either to a tear which caused a blood clot or placental material travelling from elsewhere in his body. If the injury was because of the first of these, then the cause was likely to be the use of excessive force during the delivery. The second is exceedingly rare.

It was agreed that the forceps delivery would not have caused damage were the baby in the 'occipito-anterior' position – i.e. with the back of his head at the front – when he was born.

The NHS trust responsible for the hospital where the boy was born advanced a number of possible causes for the injury, but the court found that the doctor had failed to examine the mother properly, so did not ascertain whether the baby was in the occipito-anterior position. He then used excessive force while delivering the baby using forceps and this caused the injury.

The High Court ruled that the NHS trust was liable for the injury. The amount of damages payable has yet to be assessed, but it is clear that this will run into many millions of pounds.

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