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NHS apology for miscarriage error

Source BBC News@

Emily Wheatley said the hospital took away the enjoyment of pregnancy

A Cardiff hospital has been forced to apologise for flaws in the way it diagnosed miscarriages over many years.

It follows the case of a woman who was wrongly told she had miscarried nine weeks into her pregnancy after a scan at the University Hospital of Wales.

Emily Wheatley, from Monmouth, went on to have a healthy baby daughter.

The Public Service Ombudsman for Wales believes flaws in UHW's practices may have gone back as far as 2006. A helpline has been set up for patients.

'Real shock'

Ms Wheatley was told during a dating scan she had suffered a silent miscarriage - where there are no symptoms.

She chose to undergo a uterine evacuation at Nevill Hall hospital in Abergavenny, but staff there discovered she was nine weeks pregnant with a healthy foetus.

Ms Wheatley suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis, meaning the chances of her conceiving naturally were "very, very slim".

She said: "To be told that I'd miscarried was a real shock.

"It took a lot to adjust to that after adjusting to the fact that I was pregnant in the first place."

After being told the good news she was still pregnant, she said: "Even though the baby was there clearly on the screen, I couldn't really believe it."

She said the hospital "took away the enjoyment of pregnancy".

The thought that other women may have lost babies after wrongly being told they had silently miscarried early in their pregnancy was "frightening".

'Unacceptable mistake'

"It's just unbelievable actually that there are potentially other women out there who have been diagnosed with having a silent miscarriage... and they potentially have got rid of healthy babies. That frightens me."

Ms Wheatley added: "Maybe hundreds of babies have been lost because of their decision making, which is unthinkable."

Peter Tyndall, Public Service Ombudsman for Wales, said it was an "unacceptable mistake" which should have been avoided and he has called a review of midwife sonographers' competency.

He said staff, after discovering a silent miscarriage, should have used a different scan to give them a "more accurate picture", but failed to do so.

In a report, he says the health board "failed to implement guidelines issued by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) that were designed to prevent the misdiagnosis of early pregnancy loss" and had been using out-dated guidance for two years or more.

Asked how many other people could have been affected, he replied: "You'll have to ask the health board but clearly there will have been others.

"The health board has set up a helpline for other women who think they may have been affected.

"We'd advise them if they are concerned to contact the helpline."

Mr Tyndall said he thinks Ms Wheatley's case is "unusual and I don't think it's typical", but he said other women may have been similarly affected.

The ombudsman made a series of recommendations, including that the health board issues a written apology and pays the woman £1,500.

The helpline - 0800 952 0244 - will be launched at 09:00 GMT on Friday and will remain open until 17:00 GMT on 4 November.

The health board does not know how many women, if any, could potentially be affected.

'Genuinely sorry'

Dr George Findlay, Cardiff and Vale Health Board director for children and women's services, said about 6,000 deliveries are performed each year, and between 600 and 1,200 people have a miscarriage.

"We're saying that about 600 women per year may have a miscarriage that leads to an intervention by us," he said.

"What I don't know right now is what type of scan or number of scans that these patients had and we're happy to look at that on a case by case basis."

Dr Findlay added: "We let her down and we didn't provide a standard of care that's acceptable to me as a doctor or me as a manager."

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board's executive director of nursing, Ruth Walker, offered an "unreserved" apology to Ms Wheatley and said the said the board was "genuinely sorry that it has taken an ombudsman's report for her to receive the answers she deserved".

She said what happened to Ms Wheatley was "absolutely unacceptable" correct procedures were now followed, and it has undertaken a review of the way women are cared for in the early stages of pregnancy.

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