For the past five years I have represented Jack and Sarah Hawkins in a clinical negligence claim against Nottingham University Hospital Trust following the death of their unborn baby, Harriet.
In October 2021, their legal case settled (out of court) for £2.8 million, a figure that is thought to be the largest pay out for a stillbirth clinical negligence case in the UK.
This is not a moment of celebration for anyone. The figure is so high because it reflects the significant and prolonged psychiatric injury caused to them both as a result of Harriet’s death and, tragically, the loss of two brilliant careers with the NHS.
It goes without saying that no amount of money can compensate for a much wanted and much-loved baby. This is one of the most exceptional cases I’ve dealt with during my career. It’s not simply exceptional because of the compensation figure, it’s exceptional because of the bravery of Sarah and Jack in sharing their experience so publicly and helping to give other parents the confidence to come forward and question the care being given by NUHT.
Together, Sarah, Jack and all the other couples affected have helped to expose the significant and serious inadequacies in the maternity services at the Trust, which has now resulted in a formal Review being undertaken and calls for a Public Inquiry.
About the case
Harriet – who was the first baby for Jack and Sarah Hawkins – was born dead at Nottingham City Hospital on 17th April 2016. Harriet was completely normal, but she died intrapartum as a result of a mismanaged labour. At the time, Jack and Sarah both worked for NUHT. Jack was a Hospital Consultant (Director of NHS Improvements) and Sarah a Senior Physiotherapist.
Because Harriet was stillborn, there was no inquest into her death, so the couple embarked on their own investigations to discover the truth behind their daughter’s death which exposed the inadequacies in NUHT’s maternity services.
In October 2017, the couple were the first to publicly blow-the-whistle on the gross serious errors made by NUHT, the endemic failures and cover ups by the Trust who sought to hide the true extent of the problems within their group of two hospitals (Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital).
NUHT repeatedly and incorrectly tried to attribute Harriet’s death to an infection when there was none. The NUHT failed to listen to Jack and Sarah and to properly investigate and take action to make meaningful changes in culture and practice. This cycle of repeated errors has directly resulted in more babies dying and being damaged, as well as cost to the NHS.
It has been reported that more than £91m in compensation and costs was paid out by NUH from 2010 to 2020 in connection with brain damage suffered by 46 babies and 19 stillbirths.
There has also been a failure by the regulators and professional bodies (GMC/NMC/CQC and CCG), all of whom were aware of the serious concerns surrounding Sarah’s care and Harriet’s death from at least late 2017 onwards when a Root Cause Analysis Investigation Report (dated 11/12/2017) identified 13 significant care and service delivery problems and concluded that Harriet’s death was ‘almost certainly preventable’. Had there been intervention and effective action taken, it would most certainly have saved the lives of many more babies who have died since Harriet and have avoided the harm caused to their families.
It has been a privilege to represent the couple, who have been both tireless and fearless in not only holding the hospital to account for their catastrophic failures, but also in supporting other families affected. They are kind and generous in their concern for others and they simply want to bring an end to babies and mothers being harmed.
Sadly, my colleagues at Switalskis Solicitors are also representing other families who have been damaged as a result of failures in maternity care at NUHT. I can only hope that the conclusion of this case takes us one step further to a safer maternity service at Queens medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital.
Janet Baker, Director and Solicitor
7th December 2021