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6 October 2022 is World Cerebral Palsy Day

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy is a description of a group of permanent movement disorders arising as a result of damage to part of the brain. The impact of cerebral palsy can vary hugely with each individual and it can range from mild to severe. Some cases involve significant limb spasticity and restricted movement with poor coordination and stiff or weak muscles. Some sufferers are cognitively impaired and have issues with speech while others are intact but have physical disability. Vision, hearing and senses can also be impaired, and there can also be issues with bladder and bowel.

What are the causes?

Cerebral palsy can be caused by a number of different things. Some cases will arise from developmental problems which occur before birth (in utero), for example bleeding in the baby’s brain or reduced oxygen supply to the brain, while others can result from maternal infection eg toxoplasmosis or rubella during pregnancy or as a result of acquired infection soon after birth eg Group Strep B resulting in meningitis. It is also common in premature infants and some cases are thought to have a genetic cause. In some cases the cause of the cerebral palsy will be unclear.

If a baby is deprived of oxygen during delivery then this can result in Neurological injury leaving a baby with cerebral palsy. Sometimes, cerebral palsy can be the result of complications in the early neonatal period such as hypoglycaemia, hypocalcaemia or untreated severe jaundice (hyperbilirubinaemia and kernicterus).

Young children who have been born without the condition can also develop it after suffering a serious head injury.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of cerebral palsy is often difficult. Symptoms will not usually be obvious immediately after birth. They will normally become noticeable in the first 2-3 years of a child’s life. Symptoms which may be noticeable to parents can include:

  • Delays in reaching milestones
  • Body tone too stiff or too floppy
  • Weak arms or legs
  • Jerky movements
  • Walking on tiptoes
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Visual problems

If you have any concerns about your child’s development you should speak to your GP or health visitor.

Treatment

The condition does not have a cure but the symptoms can be managed and many children are offered different forms of treatment to help improve their symptoms and to allow them to be as independent as possible. Treatment options include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, treatment with anticonvulsants and some may be assisted by surgery for symptom relief. Caring for someone with cerebral palsy often requires a team of different medical specialists to manage the different problems.

Claims relating to cerebral palsy

Most deliveries are problem free, but childbirth can be complicated for some mothers and babies and a minority of those will go on to develop permanent problems as a result of something that happened during delivery. This can include the development of cerebral palsy.

Extended labour or delays in making a decision to perform a caesarean section can sometimes result in injury to the child and a subsequent claim. Not all cases of oxygen starvation will be negligent but there are times where the medical team may have failed to respond to signs of a distressed baby and as such failed to ensure prompt delivery.

The management of a premature baby after delivery is sometimes sub optimal and if treatment should have been different or given earlier it is sometimes possible to bring a claim. Claims arising from the circumstances of a delivery are rare and a diagnosis of cerebral palsy does not automatically mean that care has been negligent and that a claim will succeed.

Cerebral palsy claims are notoriously complex and often strongly defended as they are often very valuable claims. It is crucial that a solicitor who has experience of cerebral palsy claims is instructed as they take a very long time to investigate, not least because the most experienced experts have huge waiting lists. They also take a long time to value and it will be necessary for the child to be visited and examined by suitable experts to assess their condition, prognosis and needs.

If you or a family member have been affected by the issues in this article then contact a member of our clinical negligence team and we will be happy to discuss this further with you.

Case studies

Below you can read some of the examples of cases that we have settled for children with cerebral palsy.

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Your key contacts

Kerry Fifield

Partner and Clinical Negligence Team Manager

Bristol
Kerry’s primary focus is the needs of the client and their family when pursuing a claim, taking into account that each client is an individual with specific requirements who needs to be supported in addition to the legal investigation.
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