Interview with Consultant Neonatologist, Dr Peter Dear

£4.6 million plus the security of lifelong payments of up to £360,000pa following cerebral palsy birth injury

Each baby’s birth is a journey of multiple stages from pregnancy through labour and delivery into their first few days of life. The safety of the birth process and the mother and baby’s health and wellbeing are often managed by a team of health professionals, including midwives, obstetricians and paediatricians, each with their own area of specialist expertise and responsibility. Whilst most women never need to meet a neonatologist during their maternity treatment, the care provided by this newborn baby care specialist is of key importance to those with a premature, sick or injured baby.

We asked Dr Peter Dear, Consultant Neonatologist, to tell us more about what neonatologists do within the hospital setting and how they help the court and solicitors in birth or neonatal injury medical negligence claims.

What is your medical background?

I qualified as a doctor in 1968. After house (junior doctor) jobs I considered a career in surgery and to that end I worked as an anatomy demonstrator and passed the primary FRCS examination. I soon became disillusioned with surgery as a career and considered general practice. With this in mind I did an obstetric job and a paediatric job and became very interested in the newborn. From then on, I worked mainly in the field of neonatal medicine and became a consultant neonatologist in 1981.

What does a consultant neonatologist do?

Consultant neonatologists spend the majority of their time on the neonatal unit caring for, and supervising the care of, newborn babies with a variety of medical and surgical problems. The majority of this work concerns the care of prematurely born babies but there are plenty of other problems affecting the newborn. These include congenital abnormalities, infections, the effects of maternal disorders, such as diabetes, and the effects of intrauterine growth restriction.

When they are not on the neonatal unit, neonatologists run follow-up clinics, bereavement clinics and joint clinics with obstetricians. There are also trips out to transport sick newborns from outlying hospitals, attendance at postgraduate meetings, perinatal morbidity meetings, audit meetings and the like. In addition, consultant neonatologists are involved in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education. There is also a great deal of out-of-hours work and weekend cover.

What aspect of your role did you find most rewarding?

I have to say that I found pretty much all of this rewarding, but I think the most rewarding aspect of the work related to communication with the parents, particularly the mothers of sick babies. Helping parents to understand what the baby’s problems are, how they are being dealt with and what the future is likely to hold were always key issues for me.

How and when did you get involved in medico-legal work?

I did my first expert report in 1985. The case went to court and I found the whole process very interesting. I think that at that time there were few neonatologists giving medicolegal opinions and solicitors often had very little medical knowledge. I was soon inundated by requests from solicitors asking for reports.

At what point do you usually get involved in a clinical negligence case?

The vast majority of cases that I am asked to look at relate to perinatally-acquired hypoxic/ischaemic brain damage and the breach of duty (negligence) issues mainly involve midwifery and obstetric practice. Most of the time I become involved quite early, often before obstetric, neuroradiology and neurology opinions have been obtained. I am quite often approached at an early stage when the solicitor is beginning the investigation and wants to know at the outset whether a potential claim has any merit.

How do you assist the lawyers?

I try to assist lawyers by explaining, in clear and comprehensible terms, what the relevant issues are and where the strengths and weaknesses of the case lie. I always produce reports in the knowledge that I may have to justify my opinion in court under cross examination, so I am careful to ensure that any written opinion that I give is objective and can be relied upon by the court if the case is defended and I am required to give evidence at a trial.

About Boyes Turner

Boyes Turner’s nationally acclaimed cerebral palsy and birth injury lawyers have helped countless families recover compensation after their child suffered brain or neurological injury as a result of medical negligence immediately before, during or after birth. We work with trusted, experienced experts in all aspects of maternity and neonatal care, including obstetrics, midwifery, neurology and neonatology who help us investigate each client’s treatment with expertise and care. Where our client’s injury and disability was caused by maternity or neonatal mistakes, we help our clients obtain interim payments and settlements to ease financial hardship and pay for specialist equipment, adapted accommodation, therapies and care.

If you are caring for a child with cerebral palsy or serious neurological disability and want to find out more about making a claim, contact the specialist cerebral palsy claims team by email on cerebralpalsy@boyesturner.com.

I try to assist lawyers by explaining, in clear and comprehensible terms, what the relevant issues are and where the strengths and weaknesses of the case lie.

DR PETER DEAR

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