Deaths of seven newborn babies at Victorian hospital under investigation as a “catastrophic event”

Grieving families have been dealt a devastating blow, amid revelations the deaths of seven babies at a Victorian hospital could have been avoided. In what’s been described as a ‘catastrophic event’, the stillbirths and newborn deaths have prompted the sacking of the entire regional health service’s board, and a review of its midwifery services.

Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy says there have been clinical and governance failures at Djerriwarrh Health Service in Bacchus Marsh, a regional hospital 50km west of Melbourne.

“There is nothing that will ever mend the loss of losing a child. And to learn that that death may have been avoidable but for a series of system failures can only compound that loss and pain,” she says.

A review has found of the 10 stillbirths and newborn deaths at Djerriwarrh Health Service between 2013 and 2014, seven could have been avoided. It also revealed “a series of failures and a number of deficiencies in the care provided”.

“For a number of families who have already endured the tragedy of losing a baby, this new information is particularly confronting and difficult,” Ms Hennessy told media today.

She says the investigation into the “shocking failure” will be transparent, because the families involved deserve to know the truth.

“They absolutely have a right to know what happened and what is happening at their local health service.”

The Victorian Health Minister claims the health service didn’t adjust or update its practices in recent years, in line with the growing population in the region. She says the number of newborn deaths at the public hospital, which offers obstetrics, is more than twice the number expected from a hospital that size.

“The number of births per year increased quickly and a number of cases, which were not necessarily low risk, were being accepted when they should have been referred to another health service,” Ms Hennessy says.

Principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Dimitra Dubrow says the firm has been approached by two of the families to lose babies.

Ms Dubrow tells Babyology, “These adverse events are extremely distressing and families need to find out why the system has failed them. The pattern and regularity of the adverse events should have rung alarm bells a long time ago.”

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick says it was aware that some midwives, and possibly even doctors had raised concerns with management at Djerriwarrh and “left the service in frustration when their concerns weren’t addressed.”

“We know that there were an increased number of births at the service and this was not proportionately matched by increased staff or infrastructure (e.g. essential obstetrics equipment and resuscitation cots),” Ms Fitzpatrick says.

Djerriwarrh Health Service spokesman, Dr John Ballard, this afternoon said in a statement that the hospital was committed to ensuring the safety of its maternity services and the wellbeing of the women and families whose babies died.

“Everything that can possibly be done to ensure the wellbeing of the women and families whose babies died during this period, is being done,” he says.

“The service is committed to a rigorous open disclosure process, and each family is being given a full explanation about what happened, an apology, and intensive support including experienced counsellors.

This is a painful and complex issue. It is being treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect for all affected, and we ask for anybody associated with this information to act in the same way.”

Dr Ballard says the hospital is working with the Department of Health and Human Services to make sure its maternity and newborn services are safe for patients.

“We have new leadership, new equipment, new clinical governance and additional training and education for staff. We assure all mothers and their families that the steps we have taken will safeguard reliable and effective maternity services at Djerriwarrh Health Services,” he says.

(via Herald Sun)


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