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Midwife struck off 10 years after her negligence led to deaths of two newborn babies

By Staff Reporter

Published 25/06/2015

Midwife Heather McComish's 'catastrophic negligence' led to the deaths
Midwife Heather McComish's 'catastrophic negligence' led to the deaths
Matthew's parents Karen and David White

A midwife whose "catastrophic negligence" led to the deaths of two babies in her care has been struck off almost 10 years after they died.

Heather McComish, a midwife at Antrim Area Hospital, was not prosecuted despite experts finding that one of the children should have survived.

Dr David White and his wife Karen lost their son Matthew in November 2006.

An inquest was delayed until last year while police investigated the death of a second baby in McComish's care.

That baby died from brain damage in November 2005 as a result of McComish failing to correctly read its heart rate and consequently failing to take action over the abnormal readings.

Henry Vallance, for the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), told the hearing that Mrs White was admitted to hospital on the evening of November 2, 2006, for the induction of labour.

Mrs White complained numerous times over the next few hours of abdominal cramps, which was later determined to be labour pains.

But she was not transferred to the delivery suite until 6.50am the following morning after two brief scans had been carried out.

Matthew White was delivered at 7.26am in poor condition and admitted to the neonatal unit, where he died five days later.

McComish accepted she did not take appropriate action in response to Mrs White's complaints which might have led her to identify that she was in fact in labour.

Experts said that "had labour been correctly identified and appropriately managed, we are agreed that Patient B (Mrs White) should have been delivered of a live, healthy child".

The second death attributed to McComish's failings occurred a year earlier when Patient A was admitted to the hospital on November 3, 2005, for delivery of her first child.

At approximately 8pm she was transferred to the delivery suite where McComish supervised the delivery.

The midwife lost contact with the foetal heart rate in the lead-up to the birth and failed to recognise abnormal readings, which indicated the baby was in distress.

The boy was delivered with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and died on November 9.

McComish was brought in front of the Hospital's clinical director and the delivery suite manager, but they concluded extra training was not required.

The midwife was interviewed by police but the case was dropped after experts were consulted.

NMC panel chair Barbara Stuart said: "The panel found that Ms McComish's actions constituted a serious departure from the standards of good practice and resulted in serious harm being caused to Baby A and Baby B and contributed to their deaths.

"For these reasons, it is considered that Ms McComish's conduct is fundamentally incompatible with continuing registration and that removal from the register is the only adequate response in order to maintain the public's confidence in the midwifery profession and the NMC.

"The public expect midwives to possess the necessary skills and knowledge to deliver safe and effective care to the patients in their care.

"By departing from the standards expected of a competent midwife and not providing Patient A and Patient B with appropriate care, the public's confidence in the registrant and the midwifery profession as a whole has been undermined.

"It is further accepted that Ms McComish is currently impaired because she is likely to put patients at unwarranted risk of harm in the future and further bring the professions into disrepute.

"In all the circumstances the panel considers that a striking off order is the only appropriate, reasonable and proportionate sanction to protect patient safety, declare and uphold proper professional standards and maintain the public's confidence in the profession," added Ms Stuart.

McComish, who was not present and represented by Mary Caddell, admitted all the charges against her and they were found proved by way of those admissions.

She no longer practises as a midwife.

Matthew's parents Karen and David White
Matthew's parents Karen and David White

Couple describe loss of precious son Matthew as 'every parent's worst nightmare'

By Joanne Sweeney

Matthew White and his parents would have been looking forward to his ninth birthday this autumn had he survived.

But the little boy died five days after he was born as a result of his brain being starved of oxygen during his mother's difficult delivery in November 2006.

The baby's parents, Dr David White and Karen, a primary school teacher in Magherafelt, could never have expected to have lost their precious baby after what was a relatively normal pregnancy.

The loss of their otherwise perfect baby boy was something that the couple later described as "every parent's worst nightmare".

The Co Antrim couple have since gone through two inquests and a decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute the midwife in the last nine years before the decision by the Nursing and Midwifery Council's to strike Heather McComish off its registrar for her "catastrophic negligence".

It was a particularly busy night at Antrim Area Hospital on November 2 when the Whites arrived at the maternity department.

But they had the added misfortune of having McComish as Karen's main nursing professional.

Medical experts later agreed that if the midwife had appropriately assessed the onset of Mrs White's labour and taken the correct action, she could have expected "the safe delivery of a live, healthy child".

Mrs White went to her local hospital on the evening of November 2, 2006, where she was admitted ahead of her induction.

Despite her complaining numerous times over the next few hours of abdominal cramps - later determined to be labour pains - her midwife did not accept that she had started labour.

She was taken into a labour ward around 8pm and Matthew's inquest were told that it was agreed that Mrs White had Braxton Hicks - contractions without pain - at around 9.22pm that evening.

However, a subsequent cardiotocography (CTG) reading at 11.10pm showed signs that the baby was in distress, while Mrs White complained of having severe cramps and back pain.

A CTG records the foetal heartbeat and uterine contractions during pregnancy.

Mrs White's active labour began sometime between 11pm and 1.30am on the morning of November 3.

The baby's heart reading gave no cause for concern when it was first taken around 6pm the previous evening.

Readings of Matthew's heart rate - which would indicate if he was in distress and needed to be delivered immediately - that should have been taken, or more expertly read, did not happen that night.

At one point McComish was said to have "inappropriately" taken a break between 3.10am and 4.15am.

Mrs White's labour continued but she was not transferred to the delivery suite until 6.50am the following morning after two brief scans had been carried out.

Her baby was delivered at 7.26am in poor condition and admitted to the neonatal unit for emergency treatment.

He died five days later from hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy, a condition that arises from the brain being starved of oxygen.

The first inquest into Matthew's death was suspended in December 2007 when it was learned that police were investigating the death of a second baby from brain damage in the care of McComish at the same hospital.

The second inquest in September last year opened up with the news that a decision had been made not to prosecute McComish for her role in Matthew's death.

Senior Coroner John Leckey apologised to the Whites for the delay in the inquest to determine how their son died.

Afterwards, the Whites said: "Our wish is that midwives will learn the importance of listening to maternity patients and acting on what women tell them, not presuming that they always know best without the proper assessment."

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