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Birth Injury in Swansea Bay

View profile for Keith Thomas
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Following the recent decision to appoint an Independent Review of Maternity and Neonatal services at Swansea Bay University Health Board, Keith Thomas, Director and Head of Birth Injury Services at JCP Solicitors, shares his experience of birth injury cases.

In the 76 years since the first baby was born under the care of the NHS in Wales – with the birth of Aneira Thomas in 1948 - we estimate that at least another 1,000,000 children have been born in Wales. Almost exclusively, these babies have been born in NHS hospitals.

Almost all deliveries are safe, and mum and baby fare well. It is a happy and exciting time for the family.

However, sometimes - fortunately very rarely - things do go wrong. When that happens, the consequences are invariably tragic. Any injury to mother or baby can be devastating, but it is particularly distressing when the injury was caused by an avoidable mistake which could and should have been prevented. This is when the law steps in, as a birth injury compensation claim can be sought if it can be demonstrated that the baby or mother suffered an avoidable injury caused by sub-standard medical care.

At JCP Solicitors, we saw our first birth injury client in 1990. In fact, he was not a “client”: he was Rhydian. From an early age Rhydian demonstrated that although his body may have been damaged by cerebral palsy, his intellect certainly was not. He was sharp as a pin and hilariously funny. When a damages claim paid for a communication aid (the well named “Liberator”) Rhydian’s world was transformed as he could now communicate with those around him.

Rhydian did not reach adulthood but driven on by an indomitable spirit and supported by a truly incredible family, Rhydian achieved amazing things. He demonstrated that what counts is not the length of time we spend on this earth, but what we do with that time. In his time, Rhydian did a lot.

Since 1990 we have had the privilege of representing very many Rhydians. Their stoicism and determination no longer surprise us. The love and care that they receive from their families is inspirational: we are humbled by their achievements.

Across Wales there are dozens of individuals and families whose lives have been torn apart by avoidable birth trauma. Precise figures are not published - and we cannot quantify the heartbreak these injuries cause - but our experience tells us that the financial cost to the NHS will exceed at least a billion pounds in damages pay-outs for these avoidable birth injuries. Each and every one of our clients and their families would return every penny to have avoided injury.

What is more, had the money spent meeting damages claims been invested in maternity and neonatal services, there is every chance that at least some of our clients would have been unharmed.

In December 2022, the Health Inspectorate Wales (HIW) published the results of an unannounced inspection of Maternity services in Swansea Bay. The Health Inspectorate identified a number of areas of concern regarding patient safety and issued an “Immediate Assurance letter” to the Health Board. Health Inspectorate Wales are very clear: the staff at the Maternity Unit are working hard to provide a positive experience despite the sustained pressure they are under. Sole responsibility, the report states, rests not with the staff but with Swansea Bay University Health Board and the Welsh Government.

In response to the report - and other expressions of concern - Swansea Bay University Health Board announced an independent enquiry into maternal and neonatal services. While an enquiry is to be welcomed, the affected families will only have confidence in the outcome if the process is truly independent: this is the only way to ensure that effective action can be taken to address the serious concerns identified. At JCP Solicitors, we welcome the review and encourage a fair, independent approach.

To contact the birth injury team, get in touch with Keith Thomas on 03333 209244 or email