A HEALTH board has apologised to a couple after they were denied the chance to hold their premature baby moments before he died.
NHS Highland has been heavily criticised for failings of staff at two hospitals – Caithness General in Wick and Raigmore in Inverness – in the care and treatment of “Baby A” during and after the pregnancy.
They failed to tell the parents that their unborn son had an abdominal-wall defect, detected during an amniocentesis procedure 18 weeks into pregnancy to assess abnormalities or serious health conditions.
Their son was born prematurely four weeks later at Raigmore Hospital on 5 January this year, but died shortly afterwards.
The couple, named in the report as Mr and Mrs C, later learned that their son’s heart was beating when he was born but they were not given the opportunity to hold him until he died.
They complained to Scottish Public Services Ombudsman about the standards of care, and four of their six complaints were upheld.
Jim Martin, the ombudsman, also upheld the complaint that the board failed to arrange a consultant review to determine what went wrong and what implications this could have for a future pregnancy.
NHS Highland yesterday made an unreserved apology to the couple while Margaret Watt, chairwoman of Scotland Patients Association, hit out at the “distressing” treatment suffered by the family, saying such apologies from health boards “come too late”.
She added: “If they got it right in the first place, there would be no need to apologise. This couple have gone through a devastating experience.
“I certainly would not like to be in the mother’s position. She had to carry this baby and then lose it.
“When will the NHS get it right? When are people going to pay the price for making mistakes like this? Why do you think there are guidelines in place? They are there for staff to follow.
“The fact that they had no respect of dignity for the mother and father by letting them hold the baby is shocking. They will never get over that.”
NHS Highland chief executive Elaine Mead said: “I offer my personal and unreserved apology and sincere condolences to the family for failing to provide the standards of care they required and the devastating impact this had on their lives.
“I will continue to lead and support colleagues to ensure, as far as possible, that something like this can not happen again.”
Medical director Dr Ian Bashford added: “I would also like to offer my condolences to the family. We welcome the independent review by the ombudsman’s office and fully accept the recommendations and will implement them.
“The care that we provided fell below the standard that we would expect and I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the distress that has caused.”
The ombudsman said the couple had gone for the amniocentesis examination on 7 December last year because a previous test indicated a “heightened risk of Down’s Syndrome”.
But he added: “At the time, Baby A was found to have an abdominal-wall defect but Mr and Mrs C were not informed of this at the time.
“On 20 December Mrs C’s waters broke. She contacted [Caithness General] Hospital and was advised to go to her local health centre, where she was examined and sent home.”
The couple complained that the death had had a “devastating effect” on their lives.
The ombudsman made eight recommendations, including each hospital follow Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines when carrying out amniocentesis procedures.