A woman has been awarded compensation for negligent post-natal care after she was prescribed antibiotics to deal with a vaginal swab left inside of her.
Claire Lalor (30) from Swords in County Dublin gave birth at the National Maternity Hospital on 24th December 2012 after a difficult labour and was discharged three days later. On January 2nd and January 9th Claire returned to the hospital on the advice of public health nurses over concerns about pain and a smell from her lower body.
On neither occasion was Claire examined internally and, on her second return visit to the National Maternity Hospital, she was prescribed antibiotics. It was only on a third visit the following week that Claire was examined internally – by which time the smell had worsened – and on this occasion it was discovered that a vaginal swab had been left inside of her from the delivery of her child.
On January 18th – two days after the swab had been removed – Claire returned to the National Maternity Hospital once again, this time suffering from severe physical pain, sweating, chills fever and diarrhoea. She was admitted into the hospital, but told that she was suffering from post-natal depression and later discharged.
Unable to keep food down once she returned home, Claire was taken to the Beaumont Hospital. There she was diagnosed with C.difficile – a consequence of the unnecessary antibiotics she had been prescribed on her second return visit to the National Maternity Hospital. Once she had recovered, Claire sought legal advice and claimed compensation for negligent post-natal care.
After an investigation into Claire´s allegations, the National Maternity Hospital admitted liability for the pain she had suffered as a result of the swab being left inside of her, the discomfort she had experienced from the “disgusting” and “horrible” smell that had developed as a result of the hospital´s error, and for the C.difficle infection she had contracted as a result of the antibiotics she had mistakenly been prescibed.
However, the hospital contested the extent of Claire´s psychological trauma, and argued that her emotional upset was attributable to her post-natal depression rather than any depression or adjustment disorder caused by the events associated with the swab. Unable to reach an acceptable settlement of compensation for negligent post-natal care, the case went to the High Court for an assessment of damages.
At the High Court, Mr Justice Kevin Cross accepted that the traumatic birth of Claire´s child made her more likely to suffer from post-natal depression, and that her continuing symptoms of psychological trauma have some origin in her underlying disposition. However, the judge ruled that were it not for the admitted negligence of the National Maternity Hospital, Claire would have recovered from any post birth upset in a shorter period of time and would not have the level of psychological injury that she has now.
Judge Cross added that Claire was a truthful witness in her evidence and that she was “entirely appropriately extremely distressed” by the episode. Commenting that her fear and distrust of the medical professional was not unreasonable in the circumstances, the judge awarded Claire €140,000 compensation for negligent post-natal care.