Father’s anguish after hospital found at fault over baby’s death

The Causeway Hospital in Coleraine
The Causeway Hospital in Coleraine

A father has spoken of his grief after a hospital was ruled to be at fault over the death of his baby.

An inquest today determined that the Causeway Hospital failed to properly look after pregnant mother Tracy Hook, leading to the death of the infant she was carrying.

She asphyxiated on July 4, 2012, while still in the womb.

Senior coroner John Leckey found that there were five faults in how the hospital cared for the woman and her unborn baby, concluding that among them were understaffing of the facility, and a “failure by midwives to identify the onset of labour”.

He said that if the child – named Alexis – had been delivered 40 minutes earlier, she might have lived.

Outside the court, father Allistair Hook said it was only now that the inquest was over that the couple could “finish the grieving process”.

Following the coroner’s findings, the Causeway Trust issued this statement: “The Trust accepts the findings of the inquest and that they failed to care for Mrs (Tracy) Hook and her baby to the necessary standard.

“It again offers its sincere and unreserved apologies to the Hook family.

“When this serious situation occurred the Trust undertook a full investigation. Shortcomings and failings were identified and action was taken immediately to strengthen procedures.”

Mr Hook said afterwards: “It’s been very, very hard, but to find out that the care that was given wasn’t necessarily what it should have been makes it harder.

“We have got good family support and me and Tracy are strong. It’s been hard but we have come through it together.”

The couple revealed that on the first anniversary of Alexis’s tragic death, by coincidence, Mrs Hook gave birth to a baby boy named Freddie at the same hospital and delivered by the same doctor – Lorraine Johnston.

He praised the doctor, and said he believed she saved Tracy’s life the night Alexis died by acting so quickly once a decision was made to perform an emergency C-section.

Today Sinead O’Kane from the Causeway Trust told the couple: “I know it doesn’t change the outcome but we have taken steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

The Trust said it had also shared the lessons with other maternity units too.

Coroner John Leckey’s findings were:

• There was a failure by midwives to identify the onset of labour and to give appropriate care.

• There was a lack of continuity of midwife care ... the principal reason for this was the insufficient number of midwives on duty to cope with the workload which was high at the time.

• There had been misinterpretation of foetal heartbeat traces.

• There was a failure to escalate concerns to a consultant obstetrician.

• There was an absence of clear, unambiguous guidance as to the frequency of observations of mother and foetus in the onset of labour.

He told the court if Alexis had been delivered at 1am and not 1.42am, then according to the evidence of leading expert Dr Paul Weir and “on the balance of probabilities, resuscitation leading to survival should have been possible”.

Coroner Leckey added that even if she had lived, “it would be speculative to make any determination about the possibility of life expectancy or whether the baby would have suffered a neurological or other handicap”.

Alexis’ death was brought on when she inhaled meconium while in the womb.

Contributing factors included intrauterine infection, insufficient placenta and post maturity.

The inquest had heard that baby Alexis was showing signs of distress in her mother’s womb almost 12 hours before she was eventually born.

She was born at term, plus 13 days.

Expert Dr Weir had told the court that if it had been his case, he would have induced labour three days earlier.

Turning to Alexis’ parents Tracy and Allistair, the coroner said: “This was your first baby and all the signs were good that you Mrs Hook would be delivered of a healthy baby. It really is a tragedy that that did not happen.”