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Importance of folic acid before conception

You may have seen in the newspapers or heard on the news were a child sued her mother’s GP for failing to advise her mother to take folic acid before she tried to conceive.

The Claimant’s mother had consulted her GP (the Defendant) on 27th February 2001 to discuss family planning. At that time, it was standard practice for GP’s to advise prospective mothers of the potential benefits of taking sufficient folic acid before conception and during the first trimester. However, the Defendant advised that taking folic acid was optional and it was for the Claimant’s mother to decide whether to take it. The Defendant did not warn the Claimant’s mother of any association between taking folic acid and the prevention of spina bifida or a child being born with a neural tube defect causing spinal cord tethering. The GP did not prescribe folic acid supplements. The Claimant’s mother conceived shortly after that consultation. The Claimant’s mother did not start taking folic acid until after seeing the midwife on 25th March 2001. The Claimant was born on 19th November 2001. The Claimant was born with a neural tube defect causing spinal cord tethering. She brought the case on the basis that the cause of her disability was her mother’s failure to take folic acid before her conception, which was caused by the Defendant’s negligent advice. Had her mother been warned of the risk, she would have delayed conceiving until she had increased her intake of folic acid.

There were two hearings. In the first, judgment was given on 21st December 2020 allowing the Claimant to bring a claim under the Congenital Disabilities (Civil Liability) Act 1976 [“The Act”]. The Defendant argued that no such claim could be brought and that only the Claimant’s mother could bring a claim for wrongful birth.

To claim under the Act the Claimant had to show that there had been a wrongful act (negligent advice) leading to an occurrence (sexual intercourse in a folic acid deficient state) which resulted in a child born with disabilities due to that deficiency of folic acid. The judge found in the Claimant’s favour.

At the second hearing on liability, judgment was given on 1st December 2021. Judgment again was in favour of the Claimant. The judge concluded that the Claimant’s mother was not pregnant at the time of the consultation with the Defendant. She was not advised in accordance with the guidance to take folic acid prior to conception and for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

She was not advised about the relationship between folic acid supplements and the prevention of spina bifida/neural tube defects. Had she been provided with the correct recommended advice, she would have delayed attempts to conceive. In the circumstances, there would have been a later conception which would have resulted in a normal healthy child.

The Claimant will now pursue her claim for the damages, which if not agreed between the parties, will result in a further hearing.

If you have been affected by any kind of medical negligence, contact our specialist team today.