When Laura Cuthbert’s son Nathan developed a rash on his cheeks and across his body, she was quick to act.
Knowing not only that she needed to have him assessed by a doctor, as she was 18 weeks into her second pregnancy, she knew the importance of speedy medical attention for herself also.
Having known someone who’d recently had a child with similar symptoms, she was aware the rash could have been caused by a virus known as slapped cheek syndrome (parvovirus), something which if caught by a pregnant mother in the first 20 weeks, can cause problems to an unborn baby.
At 18 weeks pregnant, Laura called NHS Direct for advice and was advised to see her GP the following morning, leading to her being sent for blood tests at Luton and Dunstable Hospital.
Four days later, on 30 November 2012, Laura and her partner, Steve, were given the worrying news that she had been infected. It meant their baby girl, to be called Chloe, was at risk.
Despite this concern, and somewhat to Laura and Steve’s surprise, there seemed to be a lack of urgency from those treating her. Rather than being immediately assessed, they were told she would be scanned and seen by a specialist consultant seven days later, on the date of her 20-week scan.
However, a Consultant Obstetrician didn’t carry out the scan on the day, as had been promised. Instead, the couple were told her notes would be checked afterwards.
The following day, on 12 December 2012, Laura was contacted and booked into a Fetal Medicine Clinic for an appointment – an appointment which due to the festive period approaching, would not be until the New Year – in another three weeks.
“I was worried. I was aware of the dangers and was concerned because my belly was growing a lot faster than it had with Nathan and I was exhausted all the time,” said Laura.
“Obviously I wondered whether it was just something which came with being pregnant, as every pregnancy is different, but I always had that worry from the moment I knew I’d got the infection, and things didn’t seem quite right.
“Obviously we were happy when we were told we were going to see the specialist at the 20 week scan, but on the day were told that was not the case and that a specialist would review my notes. We weren’t happy with that but the indication we were given was that everything was fine, and the reality is that you trust these people.
“We were told it would be two to three weeks before we were booked into the clinic and because of it being New Year, we would not be able to see the consultant until January, three weeks on. That did seem too long, but what can we do about it?”
Delays in treatment led to heart-breaking loss of baby Chloe
When attending the clinic at Luton and Dunstable Hospital on 3 January 2013, the cost of those delays was heart-breaking.
Laura and Steve were told their baby girl was severely anaemic due to the loss of red blood cells, she had excess fluid on her lungs and needed a blood transfusion if she was to have any hope of survival – which was highly unlikely.
Tragically, Chloe didn’t make it through the transfusion and having attended at hospital that day looking forward to the year their baby girl was born, Laura and Steve found themselves having to cope with saying goodbye, without ever having said hello.
Telling of their experience during Baby Loss Awareness Week, which is encouraging people who have suffered the loss of babies to share their stories, Laura, 27, says she was concerned over the delays given she was aware of the possible dangers.
Although Laura and Steve, 28, did raise concerns that not enough was being done quickly enough, Laura says she would urge others to voice their concerns more strongly and demand tests and scans are done.
Almost four years on, Laura says she has mixed feelings of anger and frustration over the events which cost her daughter her life. She also carries regret that she didn’t challenge the medics more. As far as she was concerned, they were the experts and acting in her best interests.
“My message to any mother-to-be who has concerns would be to make sure you push and demand extra tests if you have any concerns at all. Don’t accept being told it will be ok to wait, especially if you are in a situation like I was and there has been an identified risk to your baby,” she said.
“You feel you can’t demand more, but you can. I wasn’t happy. I wouldn’t allow it again. It was all so avoidable.”
Laura, Steve and Nathan have since been joined by another new family member, Finley, who will soon celebrate his 3rd birthday in December 2016.
“I fell pregnant again just nine weeks after we lost Chloe and thankfully that pregnancy was straight forward and without complications,” Laura added.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the pregnancy. I couldn’t because of all that had gone on before. I was only happy when Finley was born healthy and in my arms.
“We are angry because we know our daughter could have been saved had the medical teams acted as they should have. We wouldn’t be in this situation now and we would have our daughter here with us.”
Failure to act quickly amounted to sub-standard care
Dimple Raja, a clinical negligence solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors, represented the family in a successful damages claim and says the failure to act quickly enough on a known danger amounted to sub-standard care.
She said: “National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines suggest that if a pregnant patient has confirmed exposure of parvovirus, then the patient should be referred to an Obstetrician for a fetal ultrasound scan and ongoing management within four weeks.
“That meant that Laura should have been seen by an Obstetrician or Fetal Medicine Consultant for an ultrasound scan before Christmas and not into the New Year. It was also negligent in that a Consultant Obstetrician with a specialism in fetal assessment scanning did not assess her at her 20-week scan.
“Had that happened, it is likely that abnormal results would have been spotted, which would have led to the transfusion being carried out prior to 23 weeks gestation, which has a much higher success rate.
“Independent experts we consulted as part of our investigations agreed that would have been likely to have led to Laura’s baby girl being born healthy. It is a very sad outcome and one which could have been avoided. Hopefully, lessons have been learned.”
Writing on behalf of the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, the NHS Litigation Authority admitted negligence and that baby Chloe would have survived had the transfusion being carried out earlier. A damages settlement was agreed with the family.
Charities involved in Baby Loss Awareness Week are hoping to break the taboo and make baby loss a much more openly talked about and discussed subject.
At 7pm on Saturday, 15 October 2016, people around the world will take part in the global ‘Wave of Light’, in which they light a candle and leave it burning for at least one hour to remember all babies that have died too soon.