A 30-year-old woman known only as K has received compensation following the stillbirth of her baby son after lawyers obtained evidence that the life of the baby boy may have been saved had midwives referred K to an obstetrician.

K was represented in her claim against the Royal Cornwall Hospital by medical negligence solicitors Nicola Wainwright and Suleika Ali.

K had a normal uneventful pregnancy.

At 38 weeks K experienced a heavy bleed. She and her husband contacted midwives at the local birth centre to report this on two occasions, as well as reduced fetal movement. Both times they were assured that the bleed was just a show.

K reported the same information at her scheduled antenatal appointment the next day and was again reassured.

Two weeks later K suffered further bleeding and felt no further fetal movements.

After contacting the midwives twice to report this K was advised either to wait until the next day for investigations, or to attend the birth centre.

The birth centre was a midwifery led unit with no doctors, and no CTG machine or ultrasound machine which are used to monitor a baby’s condition.

K attended the birth centre where the midwife there was unable to find the fetal heartbeat.

K was referred to the Royal Cornwall Hospital where she had an ultrasound scan, which confirmed that there was no fetal heartbeat, and that her baby had died.

K had to suffer the trauma of an induced labour and delivery of her stillborn son. As a result of the hospital’s alleged negligence both parents suffered from psychiatric injuries.

Nicola Wainwright and Suleikha Ali from the medical negligence team at Leigh Day alleged that the midwives at the birth centre should have advised K on three separate occasions to attend an obstetric unit to be assessed by an obstetrician.

The Hospital accepted that on one occasion K should have told to go straight to hospital, however they denied negligence in relation to the other two calls.

Leigh Day obtained expert evidence from an Obstetrician who advised that if K had been advised to attend an obstetric unit on any of the three dates when she reported bleeding and reduced fetal movements, she should have undergone investigations which should in turn have prompted early delivery of her son.

Despite not making a full admission of liability the Hospital made an offer to settle their claim which the family accepted.

Leigh Day’s expert concluded that K probably suffered Vasa Praevia.

Vasa Praevia

Vasa Praevia occurs when the blood vessels within the placenta or the umbilical cord are trapped between the baby and the opening to the birth canal.

This carries a high risk that the baby may die from haemorrhage because of blood vessels tearing at the time the fetal membranes rupture or during labour and delivery.

When Vasa Praevia is diagnosed, a caesarean section before labour begins can save the baby's life.

Vasa Praevia Raising Awareness is a UK charity raising awareness about Vasa Praevia. The charity lists the warning signs and symptoms of Vasa Praevia as being the sudden onset of painless vaginal bleeding in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.

The most at risk groups for Vasa Praevia are women with

  • Low lying placenta
  • Velamentous insertion of cord
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • History of previous uterine surgery including caesarean section

The charity is campaigning for screening for Vasa Praevia by colour Doppler ultrasounds for all pregnant women.

Solicitor Suleikha Ali from the medical negligence team at Leigh Day, said:

“What is so upsetting about this case is that the parents repeatedly told the hospital staff their concerns and were falsely reassured.

“If their concerns had been taken seriously there were opportunities for hospital staff to intervene to ensure their baby’s safety which, according to our expert, would have led to our clients’ son being born alive.

“They failed to do this, leaving this family devastated.”