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Successful conclusion of case following the death of new-born baby whose distress was missed

Suzanne White has settled a claim for a couple whose new-born baby died when her heart rate was misinterpreted

8 May 2013

A couple, whose baby died only hours after being born in January 2010, have successfully taken legal action against the Luton and Dunstable NHS Hospital Foundation Trust.

Emily Nicholas and her partner Darren Matos arrived at the labour ward for the birth of their first child at 06:25 on the 9 January 2010 following irregular contractions the previous evening, and after Ms Nichol’s water’s had broken earlier that morning.

Tests at the hospital showed that the baby’s movements were normal and that Ms Nicholas’ cervix was 9cm dilated. However, over the next hour and a half Scarlett’s heart rate showed deceleration, a concerning sign that the baby was in distress. 

Despite these worrying signs, at 08.35 the Registrar, Dr Singh, who arrived to review the baby’s heart rate, wrote in the medical notes that she felt that the recorded fetal heart beat, was ‘reassuring’ and advised that Ms Nichols start pushing.

An internal investigation later found that “………At that registrar review the CTG [The technical means for recording the fetal heart rate] was misinterpreted and also at a subsequent review requested by the midwife at 08.55 by another specialist registrar.

This is a concern as external fetal monitoring of an abnormal fetal heart rate pattern is one of the key indicators of possible fetal compromise during labour… “.

The medical experts believed that Dr Singh had either mistaken the baby’s heartbeat for the maternal, mother’s, heartbeat or had simply failed to notice that the baby was in distress, and that she did not understood what she was looking at.

Ms Nicholas continued pushing and Scarlett was delivered at 10.27 pale, floppy and not breathing. She was put on a ventilator. However, Scarlett died at 19:15 on the 9 January 2010.

Ms Nicholas said:

“We remain absolutely devastated by the loss of Scarlett. However, when you are in hospital, especially for the birth of your first child, you have to trust in the actions of those paid to look after you and your child.

“In this case we were wrong to do so.”

Suzanne White, a partner in the clinical negligence team at Leigh Day, who represented Ms Nichols and Mr Matos, said:

“It should have been clear after looking at the CTG that there had been rapid decelerations in Scarlett’s heart rate.

“Dr Singh breached her duty of care by misinterpreting the CTG at 08.35, she failed to note the frequency of contractions and on the basis of reporting the CTG to be ‘reassuring’ when it clearly wasn’t. We believe she had looked at the maternal heart rate and not Scarlett’s.

“Our experts were quite clear, had Dr Singh correctly interpreted the CTG and mandated delivery of baby Scarlett, our clients would have had a healthy baby girl today, and this terrible tragedy could have been avoided.”


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