A Christchurch family are frustrated they had to fight for almost three years to receive a formal apology from the Canterbury District Health Board after their baby was disabled during a botched delivery.
Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill released a report this week criticising a junior doctor and the board for failing to provide appropriate care to the first-time mother during the birth of her daughter in August 2011.
The family, who did not want to be named to protect their daughter’s identity, said the report “sugarcoated” the extent of her injuries, and they were angry it had taken so long for their complaint to be resolved.
Their daughter suffered a fractured collarbone during her complex instrument birth, as well as a brain bleed and severe lack of oxygen.
She had since been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and would need multiple operations to improve her vision.
It was likely she would also need surgery on her weakened left leg, and her parents feared she might never learn to walk or talk.
They hoped she would learn those skills, but said her future was still uncertain.
“We’re already on a rollercoaster for the rest of our lives. We didn’t need to be on this one to fight for answers,” her mother said.
The family said they had forgiven the obstetric registrar involved and respected him for his efforts to apologise directly and complete further training.
“My problem has always been not with the hospital or the staff; it’s been with the procedures for finding out what went wrong. I think it’s our right to know that,” her father said.
The board completed two internal reviews into the incident soon after the baby’s birth but the family were concerned they contained incorrect details and took their concerns to the commissioner.
Hill’s original report was rejected by the board and the debate went “round and round in circles for a long time”, the father said.
The final report still failed to acknowledge the extent of their daughter’s injuries, he said.
“It’s like a guy getting his leg blown off and [they’re] saying he stubbed his toe or slightly injured his leg. I just want it to be accurate.
“Mistakes happen; it’s how you deal with those mistakes. We shouldn’t have to fight so hard to get an apology.”
The board admitted it failed to protect the mother and baby and to support the doctor involved, leading to a “tragic” outcome.
“We deeply regret that on this occasion we did not reach the standard of care that the families of Canterbury are entitled to expect and that we endeavour to provide,” chief medical officer Nigel Millar said.
The board had since introduced new guidelines for the supervision of registrars, a new training programme for staff carrying out instrument deliveries, and weekly meetings for reviewing complex labours that result in emergency caesarean sections.
Action for Maternity spokeswoman Jenn Hooper said her charitable trust had helped about 650 families with similar experiences fight for answers since 2011, including the family of Casey Nathan, 20, and her son, Kymani, both of whom died after the birth in 2012.
She called for the creation of a perinatal database to record what happened to mothers and babies, estimating it would cost $5 million to “take the blindfold off”.