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State Claims Agency Calls for Guidelines to Prevent Future Syntocinon Compensation Claims

The State Claims Agency has called for national guidelines to be issued for the use of a birth-inducing drug to prevent future Syntocinon compensation claims.

Syntocinon is the brand name of a synthetic drug (oxytocin) frequently used in maternity units to induce labour and accelerate contractions. For many women it speeds up the delivery process, helps the womb to contract after childbirth and prevents excessive bleeding.

However, both mother and child have to be carefully monitored during the administration of the drug. Syntocinon can caused adverse reactions with other medication and escalate foetal distress when a baby is deprived of oxygen.

Syntocinon is listed as one of ten “high-alert medications”, and has been identified as one of the causes for the death of four babies at the Portlaoise Hospital in the past six years. There have also been several Syntocinon compensation claims made against the HSE when children have survived foetal distress, but have been born suffering from cerebral palsy.

One of the more recent Syntocinon compensation claims was heard at the High Court in February. It resulted in a three-year-old girl being awarded an interim settlement of €2.32 million due to a failure to monitor her heartbeat after Syntocinon had been administered to her mother.

Lack of Consistency in Syntocinon Use

A report recently released by the State Claims Agency – the agency that pays settlements of Syntocinon compensation claims – has shown an alarming lack of consistency in the way Syntocinon is used in maternity departments and how mothers and babies are monitored.

The report revealed that one maternity unit had no guidance on the drug´s use; thirteen had dissimilar guidelines; six had introduced policies; five relied on protocols; three had developed procedures and one had a “checklist”.

The State Claims Agency’s clinical risk adviser, Mary Godfrey, has said that national guidelines are required to improve outcomes for mothers and their babies, and to reduce the number of Syntocinon compensation claims made against the state.

However Ms Godfrey neglected to comment on one area of the report which stated “No service obtains explicit written consent from women prior to starting them on the drug.” This is an important issue which needs to be addressed if the State Claims Agency wishes to reduce the number of Syntocinon compensation claims made against the HSE.