What is a neonatal brain injury?
Neonatal literally means newborn. In medical terms, the neonatal period relates to the first few weeks of life. A neonate is a newborn baby. Neonatal care is the specialist care of babies – often born prematurely, unwell or who are small for their gestational age – within the first weeks of life. Neonatal care usually takes place in a neonatal unit (NNU) or special care baby unit (SCBU) or a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), depending on the level of monitoring and treatment and breathing support that is needed.
Can I get Legal Aid for a neonatal brain injury medical negligence claim?
Legal Aid is available for birth injury and neonatal claims resulting in neurological injury where the injury was caused during the mother’s pregnancy, the baby’s birth or the first eight weeks of the baby’s life. Where our specialist brain injury lawyers believe the severely injured child has a viable claim and they are eligible for Legal Aid, Boyes Turner make a Legal Aid application on the child’s behalf.
Does my newborn baby’s admission to NICU, NNU or SCBU mean that they have a claim for negligence?
There are many reasons why a newborn baby might be admitted to a neonatal unit. Some of the more common reasons include:
- They need help with breathing and maintaining their oxygen levels by ventilation or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
- They are at risk of hypoglycaemia and need close monitoring and help with feeding to maintain their blood sugar and nutrition
- Their heart rate needs monitoring
- They are at risk of kernicterus and need phototherapy for jaundice
- They are recovering from or are receiving treatment for an infection
- They are recovering from surgery or other treatment
- They need therapeutic cooling after suffering HIE (hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy - brain damage from lack of oxygen)
Premature babies (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or those with very low birth weights often need neonatal care as they need more support and are at greater risk of complications.
In full term babies (born after 37 weeks) who have been admitted to a neonatal unit, most admissions relate to problems with respiration, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), jaundice or asphyxia. NHS Improvement has identified poor treatment associated with these conditions as potential causes of greatest harm which, where causing serious neurological injury, can give rise to a claim.
In a patient safety alert in 2017, NHS Improvement said: “It is a priority for the NHS to reduce avoidable harm that can lead to full-term babies (babies born after 37 weeks of pregnancy) being admitted to neonatal units. The number of unexpected admissions to neonatal units is seen as a proxy indicator that preventable harm may have been caused at some point along the maternity or neonatal pathway.”
Perinatal asphyxia or HIE, respiratory problems from meconium aspiration during birth, kernicterus from untreated jaundice, delayed treatment of infection and neurological injury from untreated hypoglycaemia are the most common neonatal brain damage claims that we see at Boyes Turner. Our clients come to us at many stages of their child’s development - shortly after birth, in early childhood or in teenage years - depending on when the damage becomes evident. Negligent medical treatment of the newborn child can cause severe disability which lasts far beyond the baby’s first few weeks.
Neonatal brain injury can present with a wide range of features. Once the damage is done, the injured areas of the brain cannot recover and as the baby grows and develops, the full extent of the problems caused by the neonatal injury are gradually revealed. These impairments can range from near normal development to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and can present as:
- delayed development
- missed early years milestones
- behavioural problems
- difficulties with feeding or speech
- impaired fine motor control
- damage to the senses
- severe cognitive damage.
If you are caring for a child who has suffered a brain injury from negligent care at birth or in the first few weeks of life, contact us 0118 952 7219 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.