It may be that nothing could have been done to change what happened to you or your baby. However, sometimes mistakes are made that result in babies developing group B Strep infection unnecessarily, or those infections not being identified or treated promptly. Where errors do occur, it is often a system rather than an individual at fault – and making a complaint or taking legal action can sometimes help to ensure that such failures are addressed, and the same mistakes are not made again.
Making a complaint
If you are unhappy with the care you or your baby received, then you are entitled to make a formal complaint. Your hospital will have a complaints procedure and the NHS website provides some useful information. You may find it helpful to talk to someone about the complaints procedure before making a complaint. Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) is available in most hospitals – they offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters. They provide a point of contact for patients, their families and their carers. You can also seek advice from third parties, for example, your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) at any point.
Address your letter of complaint directly to the Chief Executive of the Hospital or Trust/Board. To be most effective, in your letter:
- Include details of what happened and when, plus the names and positions of those involved
- Explain why you are unhappy
- List the specific questions you would like answered
- Describe what you want to happen as a result of your complaint (eg, an apology, an explanation, a specific action, etc)
- Ask for a full investigation to be carried out
- Request a copy of any Untoward Serious Incident Report or Root Cause Analysis Report (this may be prepared by the maternity unit when a child is unexpectedly delivered with, or develops, GBS infection in the neonatal period)
- Ask for a response in accordance with the NHS Complaints Procedure
You should receive an acknowledgement within a week, with a timeline of when you can expect a response. If the response is delayed for any reason, you should be kept informed. See more at https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/about-the-nhs/how-to-complain-to-the-nhs/
Taking legal action
If the treatment you or your baby received was negligent, causing you or your baby either injury or harm, you may be able to make a claim for compensation.
Medical negligence claims are not a case of ‘punishing’ the health professionals and a successful claim won’t necessarily result in an apology, a change in medical policy or the health professional being disciplined.
However, if care fell below a reasonable standard and damage was caused, legal action may result in a financial settlement to compensate for that damage. This can help secure appropriate care and support for babies left with permanent life-long disability.
To pursue a legal claim successfully, two conditions need to be met:
- The medical treatment provided fell well below an acceptable and reasonable standard, and
- The harm or loss caused was as a direct result of that negligence or was materially contributed to by the negligence.
Choosing a law firm
Medical negligence proceedings are complex and stressful for parents. You will have to go over the detail of what happened many times. Legal action may be both expensive and time-consuming, taking many years to complete, although cases can be concluded quickly if the hospital accepts early on that there were mistakes.
It is vital to make sure when considering whether to go down the legal route that you seek advice from expert lawyers with experience in group B Strep cases. The most local firm may not be the best option – clinical negligence is complex and there are relatively few specialists with good experience of group B Strep claims.
There are relatively few specialists in the field. If you think you might have a case, or would like to see if you have the foundations for a case, we recommend you contact two or more of the experienced solicitors on the GBSS Legal Panel for an initial discussion.
At the very least you should contact a specialist clinical negligence practitioner who holds accreditation with the Law Society, AvMA or APIL.
Before contacting a law firm, however, get together as much information as you can. The lawyer may need this to make a realistic assessment as to whether you might have a case. They should be able to make a preliminary assessment of your case with no charge, to enable you to decide whether to proceed. They will also be able to advise you on the funding options available to you and your family to ensure that there is no financial risk to you.
GBSS Legal Panel
All the members of our Legal Panel hold accreditation with the Law Society, AvMA and/or APIL, as well as having successfully dealt with clinical negligence cases relating to group B Strep infection.
- We do not receive any referral fees if families go to them from information on our website or in our information materials.
- Any contact you have with any of these firms is entirely confidential between you and them. We are not involved in any way, unless invited to be by you.
We suggest you contact two or more of these experienced solicitors for an initial discussion before selecting a firm. Experience and a good track record are very important, as is finding someone you trust, and can develop a good working relationship with. Clinical negligence claims are hard emotionally and can take years.
If you would like further information, please contact us or one of our preferred legal providers. And, if you haven’t already, please read our leaflet “After your baby’s group B Strep infection“ which provides guidance if your baby has been affected by group B Strep infection.