A first-time mum has told how errors by hospital staff following the birth of her son left her in such agonising pain that she was unable to properly care for him and form a strong initial bond between mother and child.
Elise Cattle, 27, was unable to walk further than her own toilet for five weeks following the birth of her son, Freddie, at Hull’s Women and Children’s Hospital.
She suffered from months of constant pain, bleeding and infections, and it took repeated complaints to her midwife and GP before an internal examination was performed by a doctor at her surgery.
That examination finally uncovered the cause of her severe discomfort, as ‘packing’ used to stem bleeding after the birth had been accidentally left inside her for five months.
Such an error is classed as a ‘Never Event’ by NHS England – serious incidents that the NHS itself admits are ‘wholly preventable’ if doctors and nurses simply follow the specific procedures and systems in place.
They are classed as errors which have ‘the potential to cause serious patient harm or death’.
Elise has told her story as new figures recently highlighted how almost 1,200 such ‘unacceptable serious events’ have occurred in hospitals in England over the past four years.
Between April 2012 and March 2013, there were 290 never events, in 2013/14 there were 338, in 2014/15 there were 306 and from April 2015 to December, which is the latest month with figures yet recorded, there have been 254 – although that will be adjusted if more reports for later months come in.
In Elise’s case, hospital staff simply failed to ensure all packing which had been used to stem the bleeding had been removed.
Following legal support from Hudgell Solicitors, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust admitted breach of duty and agreed to pay Elise £7,500 to compensate for her pain and suffering.
The error caused the single mum to miss out on vital bonding time with her son, who now has formed such a close bond with his grandmother, who looked after him when Elise was in too much pain, that he sometimes calls her ‘mummy’ instead.
Never Events were most recently reported at the Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust in September and October of last year.
They were classed as a ‘retained foreign object’ – the same kind of mistake as with Elise – and ‘wrong site surgery’.
Three-and-a-half years after Freddie’s birth, Elise, a student and part-time nursery nurse, said she still lacks as close a bond with her son as she would like, and feels “jealous” when she sees new mums holding their babies.
“It really affected my bond with Freddie and I felt like I’d failed him. I still feel like that,” said Elise.
“I had been really looking forward to becoming a mum. But now when I see a mum with a new-born baby, I feel jealous, because I couldn’t cuddle Freddie like that. He’s got a really close bond with my mum, and sometimes calls her ‘mummy’, and that upsets me.”
Recalling Freddie’s birth in August 2012, Elise, from Hull, said: “I had a water birth. Freddie was back-to-back with his head sideways and his arm up. I suffered a second degree tear and they wanted to take me to theatre, but after having had a water birth, I didn’t want to have pain relief or go to theatre, so they stitched me up in the delivery room.”
Medical notes state that the ‘vaginal packing’ was used to stem the blood flow, and was to be removed at 2pm. Notes stated packaging had been removed at 2.40pm, however, it later transpired that some had been left behind, and in the months that followed, Elise suffered constant bleeding and pain.
“I couldn’t sit down for days afterwards, and had to use a rubber ring to sit on, but I initially just assumed this was normal, as I’d not given birth before,” she said.
“But when I got home from hospital, the pain just got worse and worse, I was literally laid on the sofa for five weeks, while my mum and dad did everything. I could not walk further than the toilet for five weeks. I couldn’t bath Freddie, and had to change his nappies with him lying across my lap. I couldn’t even give him his bottles, I just couldn’t stand the pain.”
Over the course of the next five months Elise visited her GP several times to complain about the pain and bleeding.
She said: “I had antibiotics after antibiotics. They said I had a pelvic infection, and that I was still bleeding because I was breast-feeding. I told my doctor it felt like something was falling out of me, but they said it was just the scar tissue.
“After five months of this, my mum ended up coming with me to the doctors and demanded they referred me to a gynaecologist, as she said this wasn’t normal. They wouldn’t refer me without examining me.”
She was booked in the following day, December 31, 2012, for an examination.
She said: “It was so painful I couldn’t even have the speculum. The doctor examined me, and then went to get her colleague. She said she could feel something, and then she pulled the packing out of me. They explained what had happened to me. After all the months of pain, it then was gone straight away.”
“I still feel mentally scarred by what I’ve gone through.”
Ashleigh Dance, a medical negligence specialist at Hudgell Solicitors said: “Elise’s case highlights how completely avoidable errors in hospitals across the country can have a massively damaging impact on the lives of patients and their families.
“These should have been happy times for Elise to cherish, having given birth to her first child. However, her memories of this time are of being in intense pain and unable to do anything for her son. She can’t get that time back, and feels it has impacted on her bond with Freddie, and that is something she will never be able to forget.
“It is wholly unacceptable that hundreds of patients across the country are finding themselves the victims of serious errors that simply shouldn’t happen, such as being given wrong the medication, having surgical equipment or objects left in them following operations, or having wrong implants and procedures.
“Hundreds of people are suffering each year like Elise, and it is not just physically suffering, but emotionally and psychologically also.”