“The consultant is still in post” – opinion piece by Bill Braithwaite QC

April 21, 2022

A version of this article first appeared in The Times.

Bill Braithwaite QC

I was horrified to read last week, in the article about the Shrewsbury Hospital scandal: “The consultant is still in post.”. Not because it surprised me, but because it confirmed what I’ve known for years; despite the most appalling “mistakes” by clinical staff involved in the birth of children, leading in the cases I see to catastrophic injury, there is no sign that those responsible are disciplined or re-trained. It might happen without my knowledge, but a recent case demonstrates the point; this is one case of many.

The claimant attended A&E several times with symptoms that were suggestive of stroke and, three weeks after first attendance, she had a catastrophic stroke.

The claim was commenced in 2019. The NHS effectively denied everything, and the case continued towards a court trial. The NHS belatedly accepted our offer (that they should pay the claimant effectively the full amount of compensation) 11 working days before the trial was due to start in court. We could have finalised that case years earlier, saving a fortune in costs.

Turning to “The consultant is still in post”, the expert employed by the NHS agreed that the radiologist who had dealt with the claimant had been negligent on two separate occasions, by failing to see the obvious. That radiologist made a sworn statement describing what he had done, giving the impression that it was a competent job, contrary to the truth. He is still employed by the same NHS trust – no sign of any action to improve his performance.

The NHS also intended to call the stroke consultant in charge of the claimant. Because the radiologist was so negligent, the consultant did not have accurate imaging evidence, but he asserted that, even with proper imaging, he would not have referred on to a specialist centre. He argued that the catastrophic stroke could not have been avoided. The admission by the NHS demonstrated that this argument was untenable.

The NHS intended to call a very senior clinician from the tertiary centre where the claimant should have been referred. He asserted that a particular feature of the claimant’s anatomy would have prevented treatment. That assertion was described by the NHS’s own expert as being “categorically wrong”. You can’t get much worse than that. No sign that he has ever been disciplined for a misleading assertion.

Although I’ve selected a stroke case, because it happens to have finished recently, my impression from many years of birth trauma claims, leading to profoundly disabling cerebral palsy, is that the clinicians are never rebuked or supported to make sure that they do not repeat the mistakes. Just the reverse; by not admitting that they are to blame, it can reinforce negligent management.