NHS Fined 800k Due to Neglect Over Death of Infant

Benedict Pignatelli

NHS admit guilt

An NHS trust in Nottingham has been issued with an £800,000 fine after admitting guilt over the death of Wynter Andrews, a baby who died in September 2019, just 23 minutes after being born. The Queen’s Medical Centre, part of the Nottingham University Hospitals group, made several mistakes in the lead up to the birth, due in part to a lack of training and available staff.

Mrs Andrews was neglected by the overrun staff, who were having to look after a number of high-risk patients simultaneously. Her patient history was not handed over to relevant staff, and she was misdiagnosed upon arrival to the very busy hospital. Unaware she was in established labour, problems continued, including a last minute caesarian section, which failed to save the baby. Wynter was born with the umbilical cord ‘wrapped tightly around her leg and neck’, and efforts to resuscitate her were abandoned shortly after birth. She died in her parents arms, 23 minutes after being born. 

Tragedy due to systemic problems within the NHS

‘Systemic issues’ were contributing factors to the neglect of Wynter, argued the coroner, Laurinda Bower, including the hospital being short-staffed and underfunded. Bower received a letter that had been sent to the board of the trust by the midwives some ten months prior to the tragedy, warning of the ‘potential disaster’ that could arise from the dire conditions. Bower deemed it a ‘clear and obvious case of neglect’ that directly resulted in Wynter’s death. 

It is the first time the trust has been criminally prosecuted. An independent review is being carried out by healthcare leader Donna Ockenden into the failings of the trust, in particular the maternity services. It has called on patients to submit evidence.

Wynter’s death a wake up call, or a foreshadowing?

Mary Shaniqua, a London-based British woman with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) described in her column the horrible ordeal she had to endure after a SCD crisis began. SCD can be excruciatingly painful, and despite not always looking sick, the patient must be treated quickly. 

Shaniqua first received pain relief four hours after the initial pain started (two hour wait for an ambulance, two hours in the waiting room). The oxycodone should be administered every thirty minutes, however, due to staff shortages she was left in a corridor without pain relief for the next five hours, while paramedics did their best to help the patients - the doctors and nurses being too overwhelmed. 

December 12 was a Monday, for context - Shaniqua wasn’t waiting on a busy Saturday night, but a quiet Monday evening. Her story is unfortunately not unique, but an example of what people are having to deal with in the UK currently. SCD is a life threatening, chronic illness. Without the NHS working as a well-oiled machine, with proper training and funding, many people will continue to suffer for it. 

Will we see improvements in the NHS?

The Andrews family no doubt are still suffering from the death of their baby in 2019, and being granted a payout is certainly understandable. That being said, it is difficult to see how an £800,000 fine will help the NHS to battle issues like under-funding. District Judge Grace Leong said she was ‘acutely aware’ the fine would be paid for by funding otherwise used for patient care. She went on to say the fine would have been much higher had it been a private organisation, and not the taxpayer picking up the tab. 

Rob Sissons, the BBC health correspondent spoke about the delicate balance between sending out a message to the NHS with this fine, hoping it acts as a deterrent, and not handicapping them any more than they already are. The NHS is a fundamental part of the UK, relied upon by millions for their health and safety. If it continues to be under-funded and under-resourced, tragedies like Wynter Andrews will continue to happen.