Medical negligence is an increasing issue around the world that causes suffering and devastating injuries for many people. Women, in particular, are unreasonably affected, with the value of obstetric and gynaecological medical negligence claims making up over a third of the medical negligence claims made in 2013 and 2014. But is the true extent of this problem obscured by the fact that women are more likely to put on a brave face and hide their pain?
The primary type of medical negligence that affects women relates to obstetric and gynaecological procedures, and many claims are made each year for injuries to the mother or child during pregnancy or delivery.
There are a number of conditions that (though rare) can occur throughout pregnancy that pose a risk to the mother. One of the most well-known is pre-eclampsia, where the placenta becomes toxic. The principal way of testing for pre-eclampsia is by measuring the amount of protein in the mother’s urine, and by testing her blood pressure for elevation. Pre-eclampsia can have serious and fatal consequences for both mother and baby, including seizures during the delivery that can leave permanent injuries. It is a common condition that is relatively simple to diagnose, and should be taken seriously by medical professionals.
A pregnant mother may also be at risk immediately after delivery. After the delivery of the baby, maternal haemorrhage is a common event that can be prevented by the injection of artificial hormones. Medical negligence can occur if the practitioner negligently fails to control excessive maternal blood loss post-delivery.
Finally, the sad situation may arise that an injury to your infant is caused during the delivery. Medical practitioners must monitor the oxygen intake and heart rate pre- and post- delivery to ensure that the baby is healthy and coping with the delivery well. If your infant is injured, you as the parents must bring the lawsuit on the infant’s behalf.
The worst part is that women are more likely to hide the fact that they are suffering from an ongoing injury after childbirth, and may be reluctant to make a claim on behalf of their infant due to the grief that they are experiencing. Numerous mothers suffer (non-negligent) injuries during childbirth, and are very reluctant to discuss them. Maureen Treadwell at the Birth Trauma Association notes that it’s a “hidden problem”, and that it’s a “total taboo” for women to discuss the injuries that they may have suffered during childbirth. If a medical practitioner is at fault, it may be very difficult for the woman or family affected to feel like they can bypass that social stigma to make a claim against the medical practitioner for negligence. In fact, according to a recent research, 64% of people that have been injured by medical negligence wait over a year to make a claim.
Before you even get pregnant, if you are having IVF there are other risks involved, as it involves several steps at which injury to the female patient can arise, or mistakes in the procedure can be made. First, the woman’s ovaries are stimulated by an artificial ovulation hormone. Afterwards, the eggs are harvested and combined with the woman’s partner’s sperm (or donor sperm), and then embryos are inserted back into the woman’s uterus. As there are many steps involved, medical negligence can occur at any point in the chain. A woman in 2005 suffered a stroke after developing Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome after receiving negligent care from her fertility specialist. There have also been cases in which the embryos have been fertilized with the wrong sperm, and one high profile case where a woman was impregnated with an embryo that used another woman’s egg after an IVF mix-up.
If any of these situations have happened to you or anyone that you know, you may feel you don’t know who to trust, but the best thing to do is always to speak to a lawyer or a medical professional, they’ll be able to help you getting things right.