Medical Negligence

Hospital Trust agrees settlement out of court with parents of baby girl who died hours after birth


Helena Wood

Team Leader & Associate Chartered Legal Executive

8 min read time

A Hospital Trust has agreed a damages settlement with the parents of a baby girl who died just three hours after she was born.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust denied any responsibility over a five-year period in which Hudgell Solicitors made representations on behalf of Sian Hill and her partner James following the death of their baby Ivy, at Darlington Memorial Hospital.

It was alleged as part of the case that had the hospital-induced pregnancy earlier – either at or before 40 weeks – it is likely Ivy would have been born healthy.

Miss Hill had raised concerns on a number of occasions having not felt her baby move for long periods when she had gone beyond 37 weeks pregnant.

As movements were felt at her antenatal clinic, no CTG scan was performed and she was advised to monitor movements and contact a midwife again if there were fewer than 10 per day.

Four days later, having again experienced reduced movements and abdominal pains in her right side, Miss Hill went to the hospital where a CTG trace was carried out.

An ultrasound examination was not performed though and she was not referred to a consultant, something Hudgell Solicitors alleged should have been the case, given the growing concern.

Miss Hill was finally induced at 41 weeks and 5 days on October 4, 2012, and Ivy was born weighing 10.8 pounds. However, she needed to be taken straight to resuscitation as she had suffered an infection.

When Sian and James first saw her just over three hours later, she had died of multi-organ failure. Miss Hill, now 26 said:

Looking back we feel so angry and so let down. I was only young at the time, just 20 years old and it was my first pregnancy, and I feel my concerns were dismissed.

Instinctively I felt something was wrong when I had the reduced movements. As a mum you know your body and you know what feels right and what feels wrong, but I was being told everything was ok and in many ways I was made to feel daft for calling in again and asking for more checks.

I felt at times like I was wasting peoples’ time and being a typical first time mum by worrying too much. It was almost so bad that I doubted myself and felt awkward raising my concerns.

I’ve since been told that the pains in my abdomen were a sign of potential infection, yet still they didn’t take immediate action. Had I been given all of the facts and told to have an induction earlier I would of course have done it. It was presented to me that there was no risk.

That makes me very angry now and I want other young mums to always speak out and keep going back again and again if they are worried. They should be fully examined and see specialists if their concerns continue.

Couple say daughter’s life support was turned off without consent

Sian and James have also claimed doctors turned off Ivy’s life support without consulting them, and before they had seen her alive.

They say they were led to believe Ivy had died when being brought to them by doctors, and not as a result of her life support being stopped, saying it was only when reading through pathologist reports some months later that they discovered staff had taken the decision to end life support against their wishes.

It was that which led the couple to approach Hudgell Solicitors, leading to the legal case which has now been settled.

The Trust only offered a settlement after the case was listed for trial in court in front of a judge next February.

Miss Hill says the loss of her daughter, and the circumstances before and after her death, have left her angry and feeling ‘completely let down and lied to’ by health professionals.

She has spoken out as a recent report by mother and baby charity Baby Lifeline claimed a lack of standardised, prioritised and attended maternity training across the UK is leading to thousands of mothers and babies ‘needlessly dying’ each year through errors made on delivery wards.

Hospital medical notes say Sian and James wished for active treatment on Ivy to be discontinued and that she be brought to them, something the couple strongly denies. Miss Hill added:

Ivy was taken away and we understood that this was so she could be fully resuscitated. We were obviously extremely worried at that stage and I desperately wanted to see Ivy to see how she was doing, but the nurses kept telling me not to worry and that she would be brought back to me once she was breathing properly.

When we were made aware that Ivy was not responding well to resuscitation and that the life support may need to be switched off both James and I made it very clear to the doctors and nurses that we wanted to see Ivy as soon as possible, and while she was still alive.

When they brought Ivy into the room she had died and was in a wicker basket. They said she had died when they were bringing her to us, no mention of switching anything off.

It was only when we were reading a pathology report months later that we saw the word ‘extubated’ – which meant they had ended life support – that we began asking questions. We were furious and it was then we turned for legal support.

That process has revealed that Ivy would probably still be with us now, alive and well, had she been delivered a couple of weeks earlier. I still find that hard to think about.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to come to terms with what happened and the emotional distress I have suffered. Ivy’s death was worsened by the way the situation was handled by the hospital staff once it became apparent Ivy was not going to survive.

She was three hours old when they switched off her life support and in that time we had not been able to see her alive. I never saw Ivy, or held her, or even touched her when she was alive.

Solicitors critical of Trust for ‘dragging out’ case over five five-year period

Helena Wood, a medical negligence specialist at Hudgell Solicitors, represented the family and was critical of the hospital trust.

This has obviously been a very distressing case for our clients given they suffered the loss of their first baby and the nature of everything that happened during pregnancy and after the birth and Ivy’s tragic death.

Sian and James are adamant that at no time did they agree to Ivy’s life support being turned off and they were absolutely clear that they said they wanted to see Ivy alive. She was alive for three hours and in that time they did not see her.

It was the opinion of independent medical experts that there was a clear failure to act on the increased risk to Ivy given Sian experienced a second episode of reduced movements.

The advice we received from experts was that an ultrasound examination should have been performed at that time and Sian should have been referred to a consultant obstetrician. It was also alleged that she should have been induced by 40 weeks gestation given the increasing risk due to Ivy’s size and the reduced movements.

Ivy’s size should have allayed any concerns over delivery at or before 40 weeks, and had she been born a couple of weeks earlier it is likely she would have been born a healthy baby.

Added to all of this, the defendant trust dragged this case out for five years, refusing to enter any settlement negotiations or make any admissions until almost two months before a trial was due. This has made it a further harrowing experience for Sian and James, and brought extra avoidable costs to the public purse.

We hope many lessons have been learned, from the care provided during pregnancy to the support and empathy for bereaved parents after they lose a child at birth. In this case, little or no empathy has been shown.

Sian and James are now parents to four-year-old son, Freddie, who was born at James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough.

Fortunately everything went well the second time around but both James and I were terrified throughout the pregnancy. We chose another hospital and they were excellent.

Freddie is aware that he has a baby sister who is not here and he calls her an angel. That is his concept of a sister. We have her pictures all around the house and talk about her constantly, so she will always be with us as a family.

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