Glasgow & West Scotland

Helen Coyle wins birth injuries damages case against NHS Lanarkshire

A woman whose son suffers from severe cerebral palsy has won a damages claim over alleged negligence at his birth.

Helen Coyle, 45, sued NHS Lanarkshire over injuries sustained by her son Ryan, 20, when he was born at Bellshill Maternity Hospital in August 1993.

A judge has ruled there was a "a causal connection" between his injuries and a breach of duty by midwives.

Ms Coyle originally sought £15m. It is not known how much NHS Lanarkshire said it would pay in the event of liability.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh heard that the mother's pregnancy had progressed without complication before she was admitted to the maternity hospital for induction in August 1993.

Heart rate

Ryan was born two days after her admission on 16 August.

She was given an infusion to stimulate contractions and the foetal heart rate was monitored by cardiotocograph (CTG).

In the action it was agreed that midwifery staff, if acting with ordinary skill and care, should have called for medical help at about 23:00 and that if Ryan had been born before 23:15 he would not have suffered the injury.

Ryan was born at 23:47 and was resuscitated with suction and oxygen.

In evidence, Dr David Anderson said that if he had been called to the delivery room by midwives at or shortly before 23:00 he would have moved to expedite the birth and considered it would have been suitable for forceps delivery.

In his judgement, Lord Tyre referred to a midwife's note recording a deceleration in heart beats on the CTG trace, timed at 22:55.

The judge said taken together with evidence from midwifery experts, he held that was the time when a midwife exercising reasonable skill and care would have called for medical assistance.

Lord Tyre said: "Such a call would have been made on the basis that that assistance was urgently required."

The judge said he rejected a submission from the mother's lawyers that the evidence showed a doctor should have been called 10 minutes earlier.

Failure of duty

He said: "No breach of duty was committed until 10 minutes later when the relatively inexperienced midwives left in charge of her care failed to react appropriately to a pathological trace which, as they ought to have realised, necessitated urgent medical review."

The judge said that on the basis of the evidence in the action he found that it would have taken the duty doctor in the labour ward no more than five minutes to respond to an urgent call and that he would have been at the delivery room by 23:00 at the latest and perhaps a minute or two earlier.

Lord Tyre said: "It is clear from my analysis of the evidence that a decision as to whether the pursuer has proved that if the midwives had fulfilled the duty incumbent upon them Ryan's delivery would have been completed before 23:15 is a very narrow one indeed."

He added: "I have reached the view, on balance of probability, that it would. There are indications in the records that this would have been a straightforward delivery."

The judge said it seemed to him more likely than not that the time from arrival to delivery would be less than 15 minutes.

He also said that he accepted expert evidence that on two earlier occasions during the birth midwives fell below the standard of care reasonably expected of them in failing to seek medical assistance.

Lord Tyre said: "I hold that the pursuer has proved a causal connection between breach of duty on the part of midwives, for whose negligence the defenders are vicariously responsible, and the injury sustained by Ryan. Her case therefore succeeds on the merits."

NHS Lanarkshire had contested the action and contended there was no fault on the part of the obstetrician and that any failure by midwives did not cause the baby's injury.

The judge held that negligence on the part of Dr Anderson was not proved but that a breach of duty by midwives was established.

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