Liability settlement secured for boy left with brain damage after illnesses 'diagnosed too late'

Adam's mum, Charlotte, has joined her legal team in calling for lessons to be learned to improve maternity safety nationally. Credit: Irwin Mitchell

A mother whose baby was left with severe brain damage after one of the UK's worst maternity scandals has secured a liability settlement with the NHS trust.

Adam Cheshire was born at Shrewsbury Hospital nearly 35 hours after his mother Charlotte's waters broke.

But in the hours after his birth, his health deteriorated.

He showed signs of early-onset Group B Strep (GBS) infection; a bacterial infection which can lead to life-threatening conditions such as meningitis if not treated quickly.

What happened to Adam?

Around 14 hours after Adam's birth, he was transferred to a neonatal intensive care unit.

The following day he was diagnosed with GBS and meningitis. He then spent nearly a month in intensive care.

Three hours prior to being transferred, Adam's condition was classed as 'normal' despite not feeding adequately since birth.

Adam is now 11-years-old and has brain damage as well as hearing and visual impairments.

He has been diagnosed with autism, severe learning difficulties and behavioural problems.

He will likely rely on others to care for him for the rest of his life, and will be unable to work.

Adam suffered brain damage, hearing and visual impairments and has been diagnosed with autism. Credit: Irwin Mitchell

After Adam's mother, Charlotte, instructed Irwin Mitchell to investigate the family’s care under Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust, the trust has agreed to accept 80% responsibility for Adam’s brain injury. The Trust has also agreed an interim payment.

The next stage of his case involves obtaining evidence to establish the amount of compensation Adam requires to help fund the specialist life-long care and therapy he needs.

The liability agreement and an interim payment of compensation has today (23 January) been approved by the High Court and will be managed by Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Court of Protection team.

Following the liability approval, Charlotte, a Church of England priest, has joined her legal team in calling for lessons to be learned to improve maternity safety nationally.

Last year, an independent review found more than 200 babies could have survived if they had received better care.

Mothers also died or suffered injuries because of failures in care and children were left with life-changing conditions.

Adam will likely rely on others to care for him for the rest of his life. Credit: Irwin Mitchell

Charlotte said: "My pregnancy with Adam was in many ways textbook but it felt that changed when my waters broke.

"From that point I just had a mother’s instinct something wasn’t right but I was reassured by the midwives so many times that everything was okay.

"At no point in my pregnancy or in the hours after Adam was born was I told about Group B Strep.

" I later found out following a review of my records, that early in my pregnancy it was decided that I wouldn’t have a test for GBS because I didn’t have the risk factors associated with it.

"It was very hard to learn that this had been considered but not discussed with me considering the eventual outcome.

"While Adam is adorable and I’m so thankful to have him in my life, it’s difficult not to think how things could have turned out much differently for him if he’d received the care he should have.

"Adam will never live an independent life and will need lifelong care. While I’m devoted to him, I’m now raising a severely disabled son, which is extremely challenging and has changed the path of both our lives forever.

"Nothing will ever make up for what he’s gone through but today means we can try and start looking to the future as a family as we have the answers we deserve and the security of knowing Adam’s needs will be taken care of.

"My heart goes out to all the other families who have been affected by maternity issues, not only at Shrewsbury and Telford but elsewhere."

She adds: "There continues to be too many stories of how families are left to pick up the pieces following care failings so it’s vital that families continue to speak out.

"What’s happened can never be forgotten and improvements in care need to continue to be made, not just at Shrewsbury and Telford but elsewhere.

"I think it’s also vital that steps are taken to ensure that GBS testing is undertaken a lot earlier than it was in our case."

Irwin Mitchell is representing a number of families affected by care issues at the Trust as well as hundreds of other patients who have suffered maternity care issues under other NHS Trusts across the country.

Sara Burns, the expert medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, representing Charlotte, said: "While the maternity failings which were allowed to manifest at Shrewsbury and Telford over many years are well documented, their shocking nature never diminishes.

"Behind each case is a human tragedy of how families have been left devastated by medical errors.

"Many of these were avoidable and have led to the deaths of babies or incredibly serious birth injuries, which have caused severe disabilities and people and needing a lifetime of specialist care.

"We believe that Adam’s care was typical of many issues families have raised. Serial observations were missed, signs that should have been acted upon weren’t and serious illnesses were diagnosed too late.

"While nothing can ever make up for what happened to Adam, we’re pleased to have secured this liability settlement  which has been approved by the High Court – which means Adam will receive the lifetime care and support he requires because of his complex needs.

"Sadly, what happened at Shrewsbury and Telford doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident. We continue to receive many first-hand accounts from families across the UK affected by issues in maternity care.

She adds: "Although GBS can make babies very unwell, most will recover with prompt treatment.

"A simple test can be conducted to highlight whether an expectant mum is a carrier of group B Strep and her care plan can be adjusted to ensure intravenous antibiotics are provided throughout labour to prevent the infection being transmitted."

Jane Plumb MBE, chief executive of the charity Group B Strep Support, said: "It's devastating Adam did not get the care he needed at the time and that the severe disabilities he now lives with as a result of group B Strep meningitis could have and should have been prevented.

"The UK falls behind so many countries by not offering GBS testing to pregnant women and people and too often not even telling them about GBS. This needs to change. Families deserve better."

The family’s care was also examined as part of the Ockenden review into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals.

The full Ockenden Review report into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals was published last March following a five-year investigation. 

It found that 201 babies could have survived if they had received better care.  Mothers also died or suffered injured because of failures in care.

The report identified 60 areas where care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust should improve. Not enough staff training, deaths being dismissed or not investigated properly and a culture of not listening to families were among the issues identified in the report.

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