Mother of severely disabled boy who died in 2014 awarded £500,000 over negligent midwife advice

The mother of a severely disabled boy has been awarded £500,000 after a High Court judge ruled she was given negligent advice by a midwife when pregnant.

Callum Best, who died aged 12 on Christmas Eve in 2014, was left requiring round-the-clock care from his parents in their Rochdale home after suffering a brain injury from being deprived of oxygen before birth.

His parents held the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust’s hospital in Rochdale (pictured) responsible for his injury – a result of his placenta becoming detached from the uterus wall – over advice they received when his mother, Debra Freeman, experienced pain in pregnancy.

They claimed that on the morning of June 27 2002, after an uneventful 36-week scan appointment, Ms Freeman experienced sudden abdominal pain while shopping.

Her partner called the maternity unit and was told to take her home to bed and give her paracetamol.

The pair went to Ms Freeman’s mother’s house but after the pain grew worse they went to A&E, with Callum later being born via emergency caesarean section shortly before 2pm having already suffered his brain injury.

He went on to develop cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, learning difficulties, was blind and fed by a tube.

The trust denied that the earlier phone call was made, of which it has no record, and maintained it was not negligent and that no reasonable midwife would have given such advice.

Upholding Callum’s mother’s claim against the trust, Judge Jim Tindal awarded her the six-figure sum, saying in his judgment it was “vindication” of what his parents said happened to him.

In a written ruling issued on Friday, the judge said the claim was “not about money for them but justice for him”.

He said midwifery experts agreed it would have been negligent for a midwife, if told Ms Freeman was in “sudden intense abdominal pain”, to fail to instruct her to come in immediately.

Obstetric experts also agreed that if she had been told this, Callum would probably have been delivered earlier.

The judge added it was accepted that if this happened, “on the balance of probabilities” Callum would not have suffered his brain injury.

He said he accepted Ms Freeman’s partner “did not mention ‘intense’ or ‘severe pain’” when speaking to the midwife on the phone, but found he was “not asked how bad the pain was”.

“Given that his partner had been doubled over and was worried about losing her baby, if asked how bad the pain was, I find on the balance of probabilities he would have said something to the effect that it was intense, she was doubled over and was worried about losing the baby as she had done before,” the judge said.

He said a “busy, distracted” midwife, who had quickly checked with a colleague, had “wrongly assumed as the scan had been fine there was nothing to worry about”.

“Instead, that midwife sought to reassure an apparently nervous father-to-be that bed rest and pain relief would be fine, not considering for a moment (as she should have) that such pain needed to be investigated,” the judge said.

He said it “beggars belief” that Ms Freeman’s partner would not have mentioned her being doubled over in pain if asked and that it would have been “negligent” not to tell him to bring her straight to the maternity unit.

Such was her anxiety that Ms Freeman would have come in “without a second thought”, the judge said, adding that “on the balance of probabilities” this would have resulted in Callum being delivered earlier and avoiding his brain damage.

The judge noted that in the years since what happened “much has changed, including in NHS practice on recording calls”.

He concluded: “It may seem hard on the defendant that one midwife letting her guard and standards drop for a few seconds should have such consequences.

“However, that is a reflection of the vitally important work that midwives – and the NHS – do, as we all recognise, especially in the current pandemic.

“Yet the consequences for the defendant of this judgment pale into insignificance compared to those of its negligence for Callum and his parents.

“I hope that when the anniversary of Callum’s death comes around in a few weeks on Christmas Eve, this year it will be perhaps just that little bit easier to bear for them.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Wikipedia.