'All we've ever wanted is the truth about why our precious baby died'
The truth of how and why a baby girl died in hospital still haunts her grieving parents.
Nearly six years on, the parents of Erin McAuley are campaigning to improve communication protocols between healthcare authorities and patients' families when things go wrong.
Erin is one of five babies among 11 hospital deaths in the Northern Health Trust in 2008-2013, which the Health Minister publicly acknowledged last week where care "was below standard".
Her parents Chris and Louise, both 38, remain shocked by the lack of transparency and honesty behind the "inhuman treatment" that the mother-of-two received during her difficult labour at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.
They only learnt on Tuesday that their daughter's death was deemed to be a serious adverse incident – any event or circumstance that led or could have led to serious unintended or unexpected harm, loss or damage – and say they were never told about this.
Mr McAuley and and his wife, from Ballycastle, should have celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary in May 27, 2008 with a wonderful new addition to their family.
Erin would have been the youngest, and perhaps only, daughter to the Co Antrim couple, and little sister to two older brothers, Criostai and Feargus.
A week over her due date, Mrs McAuley was taken into the Causeway Hospital's maternity unit and laboured slowly over a long night on May 11.
"What occurred in front of my eyes was catastrophic and one that I hope nobody will ever go through in their lifetime," said Mr McAuley.
"At 5pm they agreed to prepare Louise for theatre. Eventually a doctor came in to tell us that they had to make a decision on who had priority to the theatre as an emergency had come in. In the space of 20 seconds, he told us that the other emergency was being taken first – I was completely floored."
Erin was born at 8pm on May 12 and was quickly moved to Antrim Hospital, as there was no neo-natal unit at the Causeway.
"The drive from Coleraine to Antrim is one I will never forget, the feeling of loneliness, thinking what was I going to do if I lost my daughter and wife, how would I cope?" said Mr McAuley. "Louise was never told why Erin was being taken to Antrim, only that she was sick. That was inhuman."
The next day as it became clear that the child would not survive, Erin was transferred back to hospital to her mother so that she and her husband could spend the last precious hours together. Once Erin died at 4pm on May 13, Mrs McAuley had to undergo another operation and spent the next five days on life support, having lost 10 pints of blood.
The McAuley's won substantial damages in a medical negligence case against the Northern Health Trust in October 13, 2013 after the case was settled last July.
Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Northern Health Trust admited that its care in this case was below standard.
However, the family are still angry that an internal report that was carried out shortly after Erin's death – and which found no fault with her and Louise's care – has never been given to them all these years later.
"The truth is all we ever wanted about Erin, and we never got it until we pursued it," said Mr McAuley, a senior recreation officer with Moyle District Council.
Timeline: how tragic events unfolded
- May 11, 2008 Louise and Chris McAuley arrive at the Causeway Hospital, Coleraine. Louise's long labour starts
- May 12, 2008 At 5pm Mrs McAuley is prepared for an emergency Caesarean section. Baby Erin is delivered at 8pm. It's immediately obvious that she is seriously ill, as is her mother.
- May 13, 2008 Erin passes away in her mother's arms at 4pm. Mrs McAuley spends the next five days on life support.
- May 5, 2011 Formal High Court proceedings are issued
- July, 2013 The McAuleys' medical negligence case against the Northern Health Trust is settled
- October 14, 2013 Undisclosed substantial damages are awarded to the McAuleys by the High Court
- April 1, 2014 The couple learn that their daughter's death is subject of an internal serious adverse incident report
What is a serious adverse incident?
A serious adverse incident is any event or circumstance that led or could have led to serious unintended or unexpected harm, loss or damage.
This includes whether a patient has died under unusual |circumstances.
This may be because:
- It involves a large number of patients.
- There is a question of poor clinical or management judgment.
- A service or piece of equipment has failed.
- A patient has died under unusual circumstances; or there is a possibility or perception that any of these may have occurred.
- It is serious enough to warrant regional action to improve safety or care within the broader HSC.
- It is of public concern.
- It requires an independent review.