An Irish hospital wrongly told a pregnant woman her unborn baby was dead — just hours before an operation to remove the foetus.
The woman, who was supplied with abortion-inducing medicine by the hospital, saved her baby's life after she sought a second opinion from her local GP. The shocking incident at the scandal-plagued Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda was caused by out-of-date and unsuitable equipment and shoddy work practices.
But despite this, some of the faulty equipment identified in a report into the misdiagnosis was still being used six months later, the Irish Independent has learned.
Melissa Redmond, from Donabate in north Dublin, presented herself to the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) for an internal scan eight weeks into her pregnancy on July 22 last year.
She was anxious to get an early scan as she had previously suffered four miscarriages. After a quick scan lasting only a few minutes, Mrs Redmond was devastated to be told she had miscarried again. She and her husband Michael took the painful decision to have a D&C procedure to have their 'dead' child removed.
The operation was scheduled for just two days later on July 24. Melissa was also given the abortive drug, Cytotec, to take on the morning of the operation.
However, the then-mother of two sensed something was not right and decided to visit her local GP to seek a second opinion. A heartbeat showed up on the external scan, confirming their baby was still alive. Their son, also called Michael, was born on March 6 this year.
Melissa decided to go public with her story to encourage women in similar situations to get a second opinion if they have any doubts. But both she and her husband also want to highlight the shocking hospital blunders and faulty equipment that led to the misdiagnosis.
"If this was my first pregnancy, I wouldn't have known any different. I would have just went with what they said. The only reason I questioned it is because it wasn't my first pregnancy and because I've had miscarriages as well that I knew the feeling.
"I knew to trust my own instincts and my own body," Melissa told the Irish Independent.
"How many girls have gone in there and it could have been their first one and they wouldn't have been any wiser?"
Melissa hopes her experience will encourage other women in similar situations to always seek a second opinion and trust themselves.
However, while angry at the doctor who made the misdiagnosis, the Redmonds said other staff at the hospital, where the child was subsequently born, were exemplary.
An internal hospital report -- seen by the Irish Independent -- uncovered a litany of technical faults and staff failures which almost ended in tragedy.
The report found:
- The diagnosis was based on the opinion of one doctor. Best practice suggests that another scanner, preferably an experienced sonographer -- an ultrasonic image specialist -- confirms the diagnosis before it is made.
- The scanning machine in the EPU was six years old, "was subjected to a heavy workload" seven days a week and displayed "evidence of fatigue". It was not adequate to "accurately assess early pregnancies and their complications".
- The examination couch was not suitable. It did not split fully, which did not allow for optimal scan views.
- There were no guidelines in place regarding scanning techniques and viewing scans.
- There were no permanent, trained scan staff attached to the EPU, meaning the experience of staff varied every six months, with some getting "on-the-job training".
- There were no written guidelines for the investigation and management of early pregnancy problems.
- In the report, the hospital made eight recommendations to improve its facilities, key elements of which have not yet been acted on. Other recommendations were only acted upon months after the misdiagnosis.
For example, the old scanner in the unit was only replaced last January -- and was still being used on pregnant women for six months after the incident.
A sonographer will only be put in place next month, a full year after the incident. The sonographer will then only be available for four hours in the morning.
"There are so many other mothers this could have happened to," Michael said.
"Their children could have died -- viable children."
However, a Health Service Executive spokeswoman said it was unlikely that an investigation would be carried out to see if similar incidents had happened with other women at the hospital who were told they had miscarried.
She said the hospital would usually be aware of such "near misses", even though it took the Redmonds to notify the hospital of its mistake. "The review of reported incidents assist in discovering where weaknesses in the process and systems of care/service delivery may exist, identify the lessons to be learnt from these incidents and consequently allow services to put in place remedial actions in order to reduce the risk of future error," an HSE statement said.
However, the Redmonds said an investigation into previous scans and miscarriages would likely be too painful for the women involved.
Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital has been at the centre of a series of high-profile controversies in recent years.
These include Michael Shine, who was accused of alleged sexual assaults; and disgraced obstetrician Michael Neary, who wrongly removed women's wombs.
Source irish Independent