Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) – sometimes called ‘baby blindness’ – is a condition affecting more than half of all babies who are born prematurely or are underweight at birth.
While most babies will only have a mild form of ROP and not require treatment, around 6% of premature babies will develop an advanced stage of ROP, which will require treatment and can result in blindness.
Abnormalities may only become apparent at a late stage. So it is vital that a doctor, nurse or practitioner examines a premature baby’s eyes every week for the known stages of development of ROP. If this is not done, your baby has received sub-standard treatment.
A delayed diagnosis and treatment - can cause serious complications and lead ultimately to apermanent loss of vision.
If you have reason to believe that your baby was at risk of ROP but was not provided with appropriate care for any of the reasons below, you may have grounds to pursue a claim for clinical negligence.
When a mother and her baby do not receive an appropriate standard of care and treatment, it’s important to understand why the system appears to have failed them. Seeking answers to this question requires specialist knowledge of both legal and medical issues, together with a sympathetic and sensitive understanding of how everyone involved is affected.
Your Legal Friend has many years of experience in successfully resolving different types of medical negligence cases. Our dedicated medical negligence team can help you:
What is Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)?
An unborn baby’s retina - the light sensitive surface at the back of the eye) has no blood vessels until after the 16th week of pregnancy. The blood vessels continue to develop from the centre and only reach the edge of the eye one month after birth.
If a child is born prematurely:
To function properly, the retina needs a constant supply of blood to provide oxygen. If a baby is born early and the development of the blood vessels is incomplete, there will be areas of the retina that will not receive enough oxygen.
An insufficient oxygen supply triggers chemicals to produce new but fragile blood vessels, which leak blood and cause scarring. If left undiagnosed or untreated, the vessels can pull the retina out of position and affect a baby’s ability to see, eventually becoming completely detached and causing permanent blindness.
A doctor, nurse or clinician should be monitoring a premature baby’s eyes for advancing stages of ROP, as follows:
Stage ONE: The outer part of the retina shows mild changes clearly marked by a flat white line dividing the abnormal area of a lack of blood supply with the normal area. Babies usually recover without any medical treatment.
Stage TWO: The damage is still contained at the outer part of the retina and considered a mild abnormality but the dividing line is now raised to form a ridge. Babies also usually recover without any medical treatment.
Stage THREE: New blood vessels start to grow on the ridge. These vessels are very weak and will cause vision problems if they start to scar. When blood vessel growth becomes severely enlarged, laser treatment is required.
Stage FOUR: Blood vessels that have grown at stage three now shrink, causing scarring, and start to pull the retina away from the back of the eye (partial retinal detachment).
Stage FIVE: The retina can become totally detached from the back of the eye (total retinal detachment), leading to a permanent loss of vision.
The major reasons for babies developing ROP are:
- A premature birth and low birth weight
(Guideline for the Screening and Treatment of Retinopathy of Prematurity UK - Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Ophthalmologists British Association of Perinatal Medicine).
- Premature babies receiving excess oxygen therapy
Premature babies are often given oxygen when they are born, particularly if their lungs are not yet fully formed. The oxygen levels in the blood of all premature babies and the amount of oxygen they receive need to be constantly monitored and carefully controlled to reduce the risk of abnormal blood vessels forming behind the retina.
A doctor, nurse or hospital clinician has a duty to provide a level of appropriate care that does not fall below an expected standard.
As Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is a preventable condition, a breach in care standards may be said to have occurred if:
As experienced clinical negligence solicitors, we know that you will want to find out if the specialist failed you and your baby in their duty to provide the expected standard of appropriate care and in the diagnosis and treatment of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP).
We ensure your case is investigated to bring the hospital, health trust or medical practitioner to account and to secure the compensation to which you are entitled. At Your Legal Friend, we are committedto ensuring that the victims of clinical negligence obtain answers to their questions and receive the compensation they deserve to ensure that their future medical treatment and care needs are properly met.