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Woman’s life-long medical complications and traumatic birth caused by failure of care at St George’s Hospital

Trust admits liability in birth trauma case following internal review

18 December 2014

A woman who sustained devastating injuries during the traumatic birth of her second child has received a six-figure sum settlement from London’s St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust after they admitted to failings in the care that she received before, during and after her labour. 

Anna Whitby, aged 39, suffered a rupture to the uterus, postpartum haemorrhage and damage to her bladder as a result of failings to correctly administer the drug Syntocinon, and a delay in the treatment of the injury.

She was left with such severe injuries to her bladder that she was forced to undergo a hysterectomy and is now unable to have more children.

Medical law specialist Emmalene Bushnell from Leigh Day, who represented Anna in her battle for justice, says that a number of significant failures in the care she received not only contributed to the cause and the severity of her injuries ‘but had a significant impact on the rest of her life’.

Emmalene went on to welcome an internal review carried out by the Trust which she says ‘must catalyst change’ in the way that medical staff work with women who have previously experienced traumatic births. 

She said: “The trust admitted to a series of failings in the care received by Anna; by not obtaining a second obstetric opinion on the mode of delivery; causing or permitting excessive administration of the drug Syntocinon; and failing to recognise the nature and extent of the injury to the bladder and treat the damage thereafter.

“These failings expose a number of systemic issues that were exposed in an internal investigation carried out at the hospital. We are now calling on the Trust to not only ensure that the findings are a catalyst for change in the care received by women who have had traumatic birth experiences, but that measures are now put in place to prevent such physical and psychological injuries occurring in others in the future.”

During her pregnancy in 2011 Anna requested an elective caesarean after experiencing a traumatic birth with her first child, who was born at the hospital by forceps in 2009. This birth left Anna with severe back pain, which caused intense discomfort and left her house-bound for five weeks. 

In the early stages of her second pregnancy, the consultant overseeing Anna’s care agreed that the mode of delivery would be made jointly at 34 weeks. However, no conclusion was ever reached at this or other subsequent consultations and the mum of two eventually accepted the plan to attempt a vaginal delivery as she felt that it was pointless to continue pursuing her request. 

When her son was born on 4 November 2011, Anna experienced uterine hyperstimulation after being induced with the drug Syntocinon. It was noted that the administration of the drug should be discontinued, however, when Mrs Whitby was transferred to theatre over 20 minutes later it was noticed that the drip containing the drug had been left free-flowing. 

The continued administration of the Syntocinon caused Mrs Whitby’s uterus to rupture, leading to a postpartum haemorrhage and fetal distress. 

Mrs Whitby lost two litres of blood during the emergency caesarean and required medical attention before being transferred to a high dependency unit. 

Her bladder had been severely damaged during the procedure, although this was not recognised or treated at the time. This led to the development of two fistulae, which after many attempts at repair had to be resolved through a hysterectomy, leaving Anna to deal with the devastating reality that she will be unable to have any more children.   

Emmalene Bushnell, who specialises in birth injury claims, said: “Traumatic birth can lead to a range of life changing complications that have a significant impact on both mental and physical health. 

“Anna was caused unnecessary distress when she was repeatedly denied an elective caesarean and this decision, along with the other failings of St George’s Hospital, will now have a significant impact on the rest of her life.

 “The consequences of the hospital’s actions meant Anna had to care for her new born baby whilst still experiencing intense physical discomfort, which sadly meant she felt unable to bond with her son and missed out on his early years which she will never be able to get back.

“Whilst we are pleased that Anna’s case prompted an internal review - exposing failures in the care she received – we are calling on the Trust to provide assurances that the findings will act as a catalyst for change to ensure no other women in labour suffers similarly moving forward.”

Commenting on her ordeal Anna said: “Following the birth of my son in November 2011 at St. George's Hospital, Tooting, I was left with two fistulae. What should have been a time of rejoicing for us turned into a living hell for me and my family, and the physical and psychological effect was utterly devastating. There were times following our ordeal when my husband was seriously concerned for my wellbeing.

“It is difficult to describe the trauma and pain we suffered at that time and, whilst I appreciate that it is difficult to quantify trauma, I do not feel that any settlement will ever compensate us for what we have suffered as a family. 

“Nothing will make up for what we have lost, or the potentially different future we could have had. It should never have happened in the first place." 

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