The parents of a baby girl who died aged just three days old say they were let down by hospital staff who ‘disregarded’ NHS guidelines by postponing plans for her to be born on Christmas Day.
Natalie Powell, 38, was due to go into hospital to have her baby induced on 25 December 2011 - when she was two weeks overdue - but she says on Christmas Eve midwives changed the appointment to a check up, delaying the birth.
On Boxing Day Natalie went into labour naturally and was admitted to the midwife-led unit at Calderdale Royal Hospital, Halifax, rather than the central labour ward, where women who are overdue would normally be closely monitored.
Staff did not detect a change in Poppy’s heart rate and she wasn’t breathing when she was born. The newborn was put on a ventilator but Natalie and husband Nicholas had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn off the life support three days later.
After being urged by their GP to order a post mortem, Natalie and Nicholas launched a legal investigation her death.
The case has now been settled out of court for an undisclosed five-figure sum but Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust did not admit liability at any stage.
Hospital bosses say that in 2011 staff did not use ultrasound scanning during holiday periods except for in emergencies - but this policy has since changed.
Since poppy’s death Natalie, a psychologist, and Nicholas, a probation officer, have had two healthy children, who are now aged two and three.
“Losing Poppy was the hardest thing I’ve had to face in my life,” Natalie, from Littleborough, Rochdale, said.
She explained that throughout her pregnancy, she had been deemed low risk, but the further she went past her due date, the more worried she became.
NHS guidelines state that medics should offer woman an induction before their pregnancy reaches 42 weeks, as the risk of still birth and other complications increase beyond this.
Natalie had been originally booked to be induced at 8am on Christmas morning, when she was exactly two weeks overdue, but this was cancelled and switched to a monitoring appointment instead.
“It was our first baby, so we were led by the experts, they said it would be safe to just keep monitoring rather than undergo an induction, it was like we were dissuaded out of it.
“In hindsight I was more than two weeks past my due date, and I should’ve been induced, but the hospital seemed to have a really relaxed interpretation of the NHS guidelines and disregarded them without making sure it was safe to do so.
“This needs to change.”
The couple hope lessons can be learnt from Poppy’s passing, and are calling for a review of NHS guidelines and holiday resources to prevent anything like this happening again.
Both Natalie and Nicholas argue that if the NHS isn’t going to apply its own guidelines consistently across its NHS Trusts, then any departures should only be undertaken with senior medical input, appropriate planning and ensuring that safety net resources are in place.
Kevin Saul, from Irwin Mitchell who represented the family, said: “Their experience highlights the need to ensure that guidelines are adhered to, first and foremost. If necessary, any decision to depart from protocol should be properly assessed by senior staff in advance and fully take into account the impact of any holiday period on resources. This issue needs to be addressed within the NHS on a national level.”
Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust’s head of midwifery Anne-Marie Henshaw said: “I would like to offer my sincere condolences and apologies to Dr and Mr Powell for the loss of their baby Poppy.
“We are absolutely committed to delivering the safest care to mothers and babies across all of our maternity units.
“Women labour and birth 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so to ensure safe care the number of midwives and obstetricians working is the same during any holiday period as at any other time.
“Dr Powell gave birth to Poppy in 2011 and at that time, ultrasound scanning was only available over the holiday periods in emergency situations. Since then, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust has begun a programme to train midwife and doctor ultrasonographers who will provide an extended local service.
“If Dr and Mr Powell have any outstanding questions they feel they would like to discuss, we would always be happy to meet with them.”