To describe causes of substandard care in obstetric compensation claims.
A nationwide descriptive study in Norway.
All obstetric patients who believed themselves inflicted with injuries by the Health Service and applying for compensation.
Data were collected from 871 claims to The Norwegian System of Compensation to Patients during 1994-2008, of which 278 were awarded compensation.
Type of injury and cause of substandard care.
Of 871 cases, 278 (31.9%) resulted in compensation. Of those, asphyxia was the most common type of injury to the child (83.4%). Anal sphincter tear (29.9%) and infection (23.0%) were the most common types of injury to the mother. Human error, both by midwives (37.1% of all cases given compensation) and obstetricians (51.2%), was an important contributing factor in inadequate obstetric care. Neglecting signs of fetal distress (28.1%), more competent health workers not being called when appropriate (26.3%) and inadequate fetal monitoring (17.3%) were often observed. System errors such as time conflicts, neglecting written guidelines and poor organization of the department were infrequent causes of injury (8.3%).
Fetal asphyxia is the most common reason for compensation, resulting in large financial expenses to society. Human error contributes to inadequate health care in 92% of obstetric compensation claims, although underlying system errors may also be present.