Needless Miscarriages Undertaken After Report Finds ‘Fundamental Errors’

5 November 2013

Needless Miscarriages Undertaken After Report Finds ‘Fundamental Errors’

A report from Peter Tyndall, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has uncovered an astonishing history of medical blunders at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff dating back to 2006. Relating to obstetric scans in investigating miscarriages, hundreds of pregnant women may have had healthy babies mistakenly aborted after incorrect scans which suggested the women were at risk of losing their babies and were given drugs to terminate the pregnancy.

The investigation found that a flawed procedure was being used by medical professionals when scanning the women who were at risk of losing their babies. The error in procedure related to a scan used by midwives investigating miscarries. They are recommended to use an internal transvaginal scan which is more accurate than the external Doppler ultrasound procedure.

It was only after Emily Wheatley, 31, was told she had miscarried at nine weeks following investigations at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff that full details of the scandal arose. 

After being informed of the ‘miscarriage’ she attended a different hospital (Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny) for treatment with drugs to remove the foetus in July 2012. Once staff carried out a further scan, it revealed a baby’s heartbeat. Miss Wheatley went on to give birth to a healthy baby but the entire course of events left her ‘traumatised’

She said: ‘When I saw the baby clearly on the screen, I couldn’t really believe that the University Hospital of Wales had got it wrong. I feel angry at the decision to not follow a simple process which could have prevented this misdiagnosis.’ 

Miss Wheatley, who suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome, added: ‘It’s just unbelievable that there are potentially other women out there who have been diagnosed with having a silent miscarriage. And they potentially have got rid of healthy babies –  that frightens me. 

‘Maybe hundreds of babies have been lost because of their decision.’

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales report also found that UHW staff were ‘systematically failing’ to perform the correct scans on women with suspected early pregnancy loss and standardised and accepted clinical protocols had been ignored for seven years-suggesting the horrendous strong possibility that other women may have had terminations in that time.

A spokesman for the Royal College of Gynaecologists,  who issued the guidelines, yesterday said  almost every unit in England was signed up  and adhering to the recommended procedure.

Mr Tyndall has asked the Welsh Government to check that all health boards are now complying with the guidance.

A helpline received 28 calls yesterday, of which eight women were ‘immediately reassured’.

Mr Tyndall criticised the Cardiff and Vale Health Board for not updating its guidelines and told them to pay Miss Wheatley £1,500 in compensation.

Mr Tyndall said: ‘Were it not for the fortunate circumstance of [Miss Wheatley] seeking  her post-miscarriage care at  an alternative hospital, it seems likely that these failings would have resulted in the medical termination of a healthy, viable pregnancy.’ 

RCOG spokesman Siobhan Quenby said: ‘This is a  really big issue because we have to be 100 per cent certain that a miscarriage has taken place – 97 per cent is no good for the 3 per cent of women for whom the wrong diagnosis would be a disaster.’

Cardiff and Vale Health Board said it made an ‘unreserved apology’ to Miss Wheatley.

If you have experienced any form of medical mistreatment at any NHS trusts or hospitals, or want to better understand exactly what your patient rights are, we are pleased to offer advice and support to you. Our specialists have wide experience of providing advice and support across a number of areas relating to potential medical mistreatment, such as misdiagnosis and delay and surgery errors, for example.