National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month

21 March 2023

March is National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, and National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day is on March 25th. It is estimated that there are 17 million people across the world who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. 

According to Cerebral Palsy Sport, there are 30,000 children in the UK who are diagnosed and living with cerebral palsy.

The aim of National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month and National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day is to make positive changes in education programmes, the health care system, and the job market to provide more opportunities to those living with cerebral palsy. 

What is cerebral palsy?

The NHS define cerebral palsy as a name for a group of lifelong conditions affecting movement and co-ordination.

Cerebral palsy is a permanent disability that impacts a person’s mobility and muscle strength. There are several types of cerebral palsy which include:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy – this is where muscles in the body are tight, stiff and weak making movement control difficult.
  • Athetoid (dyskinetic) cerebral palsy – this involves involuntary slow, writhing movements of the limbs, and sometimes muscle spasms.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy – this is a difficulty with balance which causes unsteadiness when walking and shaky movements of the hands.
  • Mixed cerebral palsy – this is a combination of two or more of the above.

What causes cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is caused by a problem with the brain that happens before, during or soon after the birth.

Cerebral palsy can be caused by a problem that affects the development of a baby’s brain whilst they are growing in the womb. Examples of this include:

  • Periventricular leukomalacia – this is damage to the part of the brain called white matter, and is possibly as a result of a reduced blood or oxygen supply
  • An infection passed on by the baby’s mother
  • A stroke caused by limited blood supply to the baby’s brain or a bleed on the brain
  • An injury to the unborn baby’s head

Cerebral palsy can be caused by events that take place during a baby’s birth or very shortly after. For example, where:

  • the baby’s brain temporarily does not get enough oxygen
  • An infection of the brain, such as meningitis
  • A serious head injury
  • Very low blood sugar level
  • A stroke

A baby being born prematurely, a baby having a low birthweight, multiple births (such as birthing twins or triplets) or if the person carrying the baby smokes, drinks a lot of alcohol or takes drugs during the pregnancy all increases the risks of a baby being born with cerebral palsy.

When does cerebral palsy give rise to a clinical negligence claim?

In some circumstances, a baby can develop cerebral palsy as a result of receiving poor medical care during their mother’s pregnancy or during their birth. Clinical negligence claims have been brought in the following circumstances:

  • A failure to detect, diagnose and treat an infection during the pregnancy
  • A failure to monitor and treat blood sugar levels during the pregnancy
  • A failure to monitor the baby’s heart rate
  • Poor treatment of jaundice
  • Complications around the umbilical cord which leads to a lack of oxygen to the baby
  • The misuse of drugs
  • Incorrectly using vacuum forceps, vacuum extractors or other delivery tools
  • Failure to quickly clear the baby’s airways after birth
  • Delays in delivering the baby, including delays by C-section

Clare Langford, head of the clinical negligence team, has been instructed on the case of S v N, concerning a 7-year-old girl who suffered a lack of oxygen during birth which caused bilateral deafness and cerebral palsy. S was suffering distress during the birth and it is our case that a prompt C-section should have taken place to expedite delivery. Due to the 40-minute delay in the claimant being born, she has suffered a hypoxic birth injury. The case is currently proceeding towards trial and is valued in excess of £20 million.

Is there a time limit for bringing a medical negligence claim?

If you wish to bring a clinical negligence claim on behalf of a child born with cerebral palsy, the claim must be brought within 3 years of the child’s 18th birthday in England and Wales. There is no time limit in bringing a claim if the child does not have mental capacity when they reach adulthood.

What can I claim for in terms of damages?

For clinical negligence claims on behalf of a child born with cerebral palsy, it may be possible to claim for the pain and suffering caused, costs of any care, medical treatment, rehabilitation, assistive aids, equipment and any housing adaptions and/or an adapted property that may be required now or that will be required in the future. You could also claim for lost earnings that were incurred as a result of medical negligence.

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