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The dangerously high cost of poor communication

02 June 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 6


Caring for non-English speakers presents unique challenges for maternity services. However, as Andrew Symon explains, miscommunication can lead to devastating consequences

Many of the legal cases discussed in this column relate to circumstances surrounding the birth. Less usual are claims focussing on postnatal issues—particularly breastfeeding—but such a claim has just been settled in the English High Court (Rajatheepan v Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Foundation Trust, 2018). In fact, the original claim asserted that the baby's cerebral palsy was due to a delay in carrying out an emergency caesarean section, but this head of claim was dropped, with the focus shifting to an alleged failure to ensure that the mother understood what she was being told about breastfeeding. The court record notes that the baby's parents were Tamil refugees, and that the mother spoke very little English, although the father, when available, could translate.

‘At the heart of the … case is Mrs Rajatheepan's lack of understanding of and ability to communicate in English … at the material time (she) had a minimal command of English, which was limited to a few basic words and that, as a result, the midwives involved in the care of the Claimant (i.e. the baby) and his mother were not able effectively to communicate with Mrs Rajatheepan.’(Rajatheepan v Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Foundation Trust, 2018, at paragraph 25)

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