Mrs C was scheduled to give birth to her third child by caesarean section. One week before the procedure was to be carried out her waters broke. She became very concerned as her waters were red with blood. Mrs C’s partner took her straight to the Maternity Assessment Unit (MAU) at James Cook University Hospital. Once inside Mrs C was directed to simply sit in the waiting room, surrounded by other pregnant women and couples, despite being distressed and her lower half being entirely covered in blood. Unbeknown to her at the time she had suffered a placental abruption, this occurs when the placental lining comes away from the uterus causing massive bleeding and endangering both the baby and the mother, it is an emergency situation.
After 15 minutes in the waiting room, surrounded by other patients, Mrs C was finally seen by a midwife. The midwife was horrified with Mrs C’s condition and called for a doctor urgently. As a result Mrs C was admitted and immediately underwent an emergency Caesarean section. Thankfully this was successful and Mrs C gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
Physically Mrs C recovered well from the ordeal; however she began to suffer from panic attacks, constantly running through what happened from the bleed to the birth in her head. She was later diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) and began attending Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help come to terms with the incident.
Mrs C initially spoke to her midwife about the delay in her being seen at the hospital and submitted a complaint through the Patient Advice & Liaison Service (PALS) service. She came to see us after she did not receive a satisfactory response as to why she had not been seen as a priority when she attended hospital in such a condition.
We sought the opinion of independent medical experts as to the quality of Mrs C’s care. These experts felt that while the placental abruption could not have been avoided the 15 minute delay before being examined was traumatic and unacceptable. It was this entirely avoidable delay, rather than the abruption itself, that had so seriously affected Mrs C and resulted in her anxiety and PTSD.
We put these allegations to South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. They admitted that the care had been substandard and soon after made an offer of compensation, which Mrs C accepted.
As a result Mrs C recovered compensation for her long lasting psychological injuries. She was also compensated for the cost of the CBT sessions, both in the past and those she will need to help put this incident behind her. This case shows that sometimes psychological injuries can occur independently of physical injuries, but can be just as damaging with on-going consequences for the patient.