Six year old Ettie Douthwaite has cerebral palsy. She is unable to move independently or talk after she was starved of oxygen at birth. Her mother, Alison Douthwaite (36) from Frome in Somerset, had a completely normal first pregnancy and she was offered the option of delivery at her local GP assisted maternity unit rather than being admitted to Bath Hospital.
Whilst in labour, baby Ettie became distressed but the midwives on duty failed to properly monitor her heart rate for more than seven hours. When Ettie was finally born at 7.20pm on 18th July 2004, the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around her neck, she was blue and was barely breathing.
Even then, according to Alison, the midwives did not appear to notice the seriousness of the situation and instead asked husband, Neil, if he would like to cut the cord.
“It was the most awful nightmare,” said Alison. “I could see something was terribly wrong with Ettie, but the midwives just said she needed a little oxygen.”
After working on her for several minutes, midwives made the decision to transfer baby Ettie to Bath Hospital. There she was treated in the Special Care Baby Unit for one month before finally being discharged home. However, it was not until five months later that health workers finally admitted Ettie had cerebral palsy.
Julie Lewis, a medical negligence expert with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors explained: “Alison and Neil came to us because they desperately needed answers – in particular, whether Ettie’s condition should have been preventable. When we gained access to Alison’s medical notes we discovered that soon after being admitted to the midwifery unit, Alison’s waters broke and traces of meconium (foetal faeces) were present which should have indicated the need for transfer to a specialist obstetric unit.
“During labour, intermittent CTG traces showed baby Ettie’s heart rate rising and falling alarmingly yet for more than seven hours nothing was done to intervene. Independent medical experts told us that had Ettie’s heart rate been monitored continuously it would have been quite clear that she was in distress and had she been delivered even half an hour earlier, she would not have suffered any permanent injury.”
Wiltshire Primary Care Trust, which is responsible for the midwifery unit at Frome Victoria Hospital, has admitted liability and made an interim payment to provide Ettie with the care and special equipment she needs.
Alison said: “Ettie is such a happy and determined little girl and she is a constant joy to us. However, the fact remains that she will never be able to run and play and do all the everyday things other little girls her age are able to. Her whole life will be very challenging because of the trauma she suffered during her birth.
“In hindsight, I don’t feel I was given sufficient information at the time to make an informed choice about where I gave birth and in particular the lack of medical intervention available on-site if something went wrong.”
She added: “Organisations like the BTA do fantastic work because women who have suffered birth trauma of any kind can often feel incredibly isolated. Having another parent to talk to who has experienced similar emotions can be a real lifeline.”