THE HSE AND University Hospital Limerick have apologised in the High Court to a woman who gave birth to a stillborn baby in the hospital 16 years ago.
Rebecca Collins, of Killeanaugh, Carrigaholt, Co Clare, sued the HSE for negligence, breach of duty of care and a failure to identify and manage a non-reassuring CTG (a monitoring of the baby’s heartbeat) after her daughter, Hannah, was stillborn.
The apology from the health service and the maternity hospital was read in court and liability was admitted. An undisclosed six-figure settlement was approved by the High Court.
It was claimed that on 26 December 2007 at 9.45pm, Ms Collins presented to the maternity unit of University Hospital Limerick at 39 weeks and 6 days gestation following an uneventful pregnancy.
She had a history of leaking fluid and was found to have spontaneous rupture of the membranes (SROM) causing her to be admitted to the antenatal ward of the maternity hospital.
While being monitored in the ward, Ms Collins had four cardiotocography (CTG) readings between 26 and 27 December to monitor her baby’s heartbeat that were interpreted and treated as normal by the medical attendants at the hospital.
It was claimed that on 28 December at 4.45am, another reading was done and no fetal heartbeat could be found. Ms Collins then underwent an ultrasound, which confirmed that her baby had no heartbeat.
Ms Collins was then transferred to the labour ward of the hospital, where she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl at 3.21pm. It was then noted that the baby had a ‘tight true knot’ in the umbilical cord. Ms Collins was then discharged on 29 December.
Following an internal inquiry at the hospital into the stillbirth, it was discovered that there was a failure to identify and appropriately manage a non-reassuring CTG trace that was carried out on Ms Collins on 27 December in the antenatal ward. The inquiry found that the CTG warranted medical review.
It was claimed that Ms Collins was not made aware of the failure to properly identify and appropriately manage the CTG trace on her unborn baby until May 2017, when she was notified because she herself made inquiries after watching an RTÉ Prime Time programme on similar issues.
In the statement read to the court, University Hospital Limerick and the HSE sincerely apologised to Rebecca Collins and her family “for the events of 28 December 2007 related to the still birth of your baby girl, Hannah”.
“The Maternity Hospital and the HSE acknowledges that the outcome on the 28 December 2007 was devastating for your family and has had a profound and lasting effect on you,” the statement said.
It continued that the family’s willingness to share their experience has been “invaluable” in allowing the hospital to learn and “in helping to make recommendations to improve the systems and processes in place at the hospital related to the delivery of maternity services”.
“The Maternity hospital and the HSE are committed to ensuring that the recommendations identified by the hospital investigation report are implemented as a matter of urgency. ”Speaking outside the Four Courts, a statement on behalf of Ms Collins was read “We welcome today’s outcome and the closure it brings – the admittance of liability by the HSE and the compensation awarded to Rebecca,” the statement read.
It read that having made it to hospital, Ms Collins remembers feeling “that she was safe in the hands of the doctors; that after nine months she would soon meet her first child – a daughter named Hannah.
“This hope and trust still haunts Rebecca to this day.”
It said that “two days later, on what would have been Rebecca’s due date, it was tragically discovered that Rebecca’s first born daughter, Hannah had passed away while Rebecca was a patient on the prenatal ward” of the hospital.
“The experience was horrific and devastating and has had a profound effect on the lives of Rebecca, her husband Tom and their extended families.
“After Hannah died, Rebecca was told that there was a knot in the umbilical cord and ‘it was one of those things, a rare case’.
“Rebecca and her husband Tom were left utterly heartbroken, grief-stricken and would live the next 15 years with unanswered questions – why and how did it happen, could it have been prevented, could their daughter have been saved?”
The statement continued that it was only after Ms Collins saw a similar case on RTÉ’s Prime Time programme in 2015 that she sought an enquiry into what had happened.
“The failure to identify that a CTG had been misinterpreted and that Hannah’s death should have been avoided meant that there was also a failure in the hospital’s duty of candour to Rebecca. There was no explanation or apology for the midwifery error given at the time, or at the postnatal review.
“Had an appropriate investigation into the case occurred at the time any recommendations arising out of the internal enquiry could have been implemented 10 years earlier.”
The statement said Ms Collins and her husband “hope by bringing awareness today that it might encourage others to ask and keep asking the difficult questions until they are answered”.
It said it was “yet another tragic case which brings home the very real need for the urgent enactment of the Patient Safety Bill”, which it said would “make open disclosure for patient safety incidents mandatory as soon as reasonably predictable”.
“Rebecca and Tom Collins deeply hope that the Patient Safety Bill will be passed into law as quickly as possible. They hope that in some way their daughter’s death was not in vain and they truly hope no other family will have to suffer as they have.
“For Rebecca, Tom and their family, Hannah will always be in their hearts and thoughts. Undoubtedly, Christmas is particularly difficult as it brings another anniversary of her passing.
“There is always somebody missing. Hannah’s death has left a wound that will never heal. A life that is gone forever, laughter that will never be heard, a sister that was never known and a daughter that will forever be loved and missed.”