Clements v Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust [2018] EWHC 2064 (QB) (03 August 2018)

On 23 July 2012 C was born… Mother and baby were attended throughout by a qualified and experienced midwife… All went well, the baby appeared healthy and normal. Yet just under one hour after her birth, C stopped breathing, as she and her parents were enjoying time alone after the birth. (paragraph 1)

When they noticed that something seemed wrong Cs’ parents called in the midwife, who removed the baby straightaway to be resuscitated. Staff managed to revive C, but she had by then sustained a profound asphyxial insult. Despite immediate treatment… that event has left C with very serious disabilities. She cannot walk, talk or eat normally… (paragraph 2)

Breach and causation are both in issue… two specific breaches of duty as follows:

(i) Advising C’s mother that if C could not breathe she (C) would wriggle and pull her head back, described by Ms Greenway, the expert midwife instructed on behalf of C, as “false reassurance”; and

(ii) Leaving C and her parents unattended and unchecked to attempt breast feeding and skin to skin contact between about 1408 and 1440. (paragraph 8)

The case for C is that her mouth and nose were obstructed and her breathing compromised by her mother’s left breast during skin to skin contact when she was left alone with her parents. There is no criticism of MW [midwife] for leaving the parents alone with their new baby for bonding time, indeed this is mandated practice. However, it is alleged that , before leaving them, MW should have advised C’s mother to keep her baby’s nostrils free at all times, and should not have answered a query by mother about C’s ability to breathe whilst at the breast by saying that babies will wriggle and pull their head back if they cannot breathe. (paragraph 9)

…no one is to blame for C’s collapse shortly after her birth in 2012 or her disabilities… The precise cause or causes of extremely rare events of sudden untoward postnatal collapse in newborns remain unknown. Although in some cases asphyxiation by lying prone, or up against the mother’s side or breast in skin to skin contact has been posited as a cause, these are not the only hypotheses which have been put forward in the literature; in a significant minority of cases the circumstances in which the baby has been found are suggestive of no apparent cause at all. I have concluded that C’s collapse remains unexplained; the evidence has not demonstrated on the balance of probabilities that she was suffocated by her mother’s breast. (paragraph 78)