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Mum's horror at Ulster baby girl's 'brutal' experience in Birmingham hospital

"I cried for help but nobody heard me. The door was shut because we were in isolation"

By Danielle Dwyer

A grieving mum sobbed yesterday as she told an inquest her one-year-old daughter was overlooked, neglected and subjected to a "brutal" experience at an NHS hospital.

Hayley Fullerton died of heart failure at Birmingham Children's Hospital on November 11, 2009, one month after her first birthday.

She had been born in Northern Ireland on October 6 2008 with a heart defect and a hole in the heart, and underwent palliative surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast weeks later, Birmingham Coroner's Court heard.

In October 2009 Hayley was flown to Birmingham Children's Hospital for corrective heart surgery. Her mother Paula Stevenson told the court the operation was a success and Hayley was transferred to the hospital's Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.

However, while in the hospital's care, Hayley's right lung collapsed and her health began to deteriorate, Mrs Stevenson said.

The 40-year-old told Aidan Cotter, Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, that after her daughter was discharged from the intensive care unit she was placed in ward 12, where she "thrived".

The mother said she voiced concerns with hospital staff when she found out that Hayley was to be moved to ward 11 on November 2 because she was worried that staff on that ward would be unfamiliar with her medical history.

Staff assured her that Hayley would be placed in a high dependency unit but instead she was "dumped" at the end of a ward, Mrs Stevenson told the inquest.

She said: "I was horrified to find Hayley dumped at the door, the furthest away from the nurses station. Hayley was not in high dependency and I knew I had been lied to.

"I was extremely upset and felt that Hayley was being punished and placed as far away as possible because of my reluctance for her to be moved.

"No-one took any notice of Hayley's monitors, even when they alarmed."

Mrs Stevenson, who is from Northern Ireland but now lives in Australia's Gold Coast with Hayley's father Bobby Fullerton, said her daughter struggled with her breathing, slept a lot and began to look "puffy", raising concerns that she was retaining water, but she said that when she or her parents raised concerns to the hospital staff they were dismissed and assured that everything was "fine".

Hayley was later placed in an isolation unit in what Mrs Stevenson believes was a move to silence her, not because of any medical concern.

She said she spoke to hospital staff and told them she believed her daughter had been neglected, adding: "This makes me wonder whether my constant pleas for help had caused Hayley to be put in isolation in order to shut me up."

Mrs Stevenson said: "I was too scared to make a fuss because the last time I did Hayley was dumped at the door instead of being placed in high dependency. I wish I had.

"I could not believe that Hayley had just been left to deteriorate. I could not believe what was happening. All along the family had expressed their concerns about Hayley's breathing and had even asked if there was a problem with her lungs, yet nothing was done.

"All she did was sleep. I missed my little girl so much and I felt as though I hadn't seen her eyes in so long, her big blue eyes.

"What was happening to Hayley was destroying me.

"We had known all along that there was something wrong with Hayley's lungs. I do not understand how things were left to get so bad."

Asked why she did not submit a formal complaint at the time, Mrs Stevenson said: "I did not want to waste my time completing the documentation when Hayley needed me.

"Looking back, I wish I had made the formal complaint because maybe that would have changed the dreadful outcome for Hayley.

"I didn't want to go away and make an official complaint because then all the focus was on the complaint and not the baby."

On November 11 both of Hayley's lungs collapsed and she suffered a cardiac arrest. Mrs Stevenson, who was by her daughter's side when she died, told the court: "I saw that Hayley was really gasping for breath.

"Her eyes were panic-stricken and they started rolling back in her head. I could see that her neck was starting to collapse in.

"I knew within seconds that she was in serious trouble. I cried for help but nobody heard me. The door was shut because we were in isolation.

"Hayley looked awful, she was like a fish out of water. She was gasping and gasping for every breath."

Mrs Stevenson said there were around 15 people in the room working to save her daughter. She said: "All the time I was stroking her head and telling her she was the best wee girl in the world.

"They worked on her until their hands hurt. All I could see was the monitor flashing (cardiac) arrest.

"All the time I kept squeezing her hand gently just to see if she would squeeze it back. Hayley never squeezed my hand back. It was cold and lifeless.

"After 19 minutes everyone had stopped looking at Hayley and they were now all looking at me with pity in their eyes.

"At 20 minutes he (the doctor) confirmed my worst fears. He said, 'sorry mum, we've lost her', and all I could think about was that I was no longer a mummy because Hayley was my only child and she was dead. I was in shock and utterly devastated.

"The treatment has led me to question how can the staff at Birmingham Children's Hospital fail Hayley so abominably?"

Mrs Stevenson added: "I was livid at the ward 11 staff, my family and I had warned them.

"I truly believe if the medical team had listened to me and my parents Hayley would still be alive today. They turned their backs on her. She was overlooked, neglected and suffered while she was alive.

"I cannot begin to explain the impact that this has had on myself and my family. Both Bobby and I are devastated. Hayley's experience at Birmingham Children's Hospital can only be described as brutal."

The inquest was adjourned until today.

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