Amniocentesis is a diagnostic procedure for detecting abnormalities of the fetus; usually performed between the 16th and 18th weeks of pregnancy.
Using a hollow needle inserted through the mother’s belly, amniotic fluid (the liquid around the baby, which contains fetal cells and fetal waste products) is withdrawn from the womb for laboratory analysis.
Testing the sample obtained can, for example, show the sex of the fetus and can detect some genetic or biochemical fetal abnormalities either by analysis of the amniotic fluid itself or the fetal cells it contains. The tests can take some time, so you may have to wait several weeks for the results.
All amniocentesis procedures in the UK should now be carried out under continuous ultra-sound guidance. This allows the obstetrician who is obtaining the amniotic fluid sample to “see” the tip of the amniocentesis needle at all times in order to make sure it is in the right place and does not damage the baby or the umbilical cord.
We have successfully concluded several cases where - because the amniocentesis was not properly conducted - the amniocentesis needle has entered the fetal brain, causing severe brain damage.
Despite the severe injury, the fetus can survive the procedure and be born after a normal labour. The brain injury may not become apparent until the baby is several months old.
In one successfully concluded case, we established through expert medical evidence that a twin had been severely brain damaged when an amniocentesis needle entered his brain during multiple attempts to obtain separate amniotic fluid samples from him and his twin sister.
In fact no sample was obtained from his sister. He died in 1996 - of his injuries - aged 6, before the trial of his case had taken place. The claim (against St. Mary’s Hospital, London) was then settled for £95,000.
In another successfully concluded case, our medical experts advised that the severe (and one-sided) brain damage evident in a girl born in 1993 had been caused by needle trauma at amniocentesis.
Although Buckinghamshire Health Authority (responsible for Wycombe General Hospital where the amniocentesis had been carried out at around 19 weeks’ gestation) never admitted liability, they settled the case shortly before trial in early 2001 for £2,430,000.