A woman has claimed she lost one of her twin babies because medical staff at a maternity hospital in Dublin repeatedly refused her request for a Caesarean section after her waters broke.
Chunling Chen told an inquest that her concerns for her babies were dismissed “sarcastically” by doctors and nurses at the Coombe Hospital, who stated: “This is not China. The practice in Ireland is that you wait.”
Ms Chunling (36), a Chinese national who lives in Walkinstown, Dublin, told a sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court on Monday that her requests for the assistance of an interpreter were also denied.
The inquest also heard claims that she had never been examined by a doctor, despite repeatedly asking to see one.
However, lawyers for the Coombe Hospital said none of its staff had spoken the words suggested about differences in medical practice between Ireland and China and waiting times for a Caesarean section.
The inquest also heard evidence from nursing staff that there was no real concern about Ms Chunling and her babies after her waters broke as the results of regular monitoring of foetal heartbeats were “normal”.
Baby Yan Ling Yang was stillborn when delivered after 35 weeks on June 28th, 2020. Her twin sister was born safely a short time later.
A consultant obstetrician at the Coombe Hospital, Aisling Martin, said its normal practice for multiple births was to allow a mother to go to 36 weeks before delivery unless there were signs of infection or labour as there were other risks in delivering such babies at an earlier stage.
Prof Martin said the hospital had got an interpreter for Ms Chunling after her baby’s death as it was felt one was needed to help explain “a difficult, devastating event”.
Another consultant obstetrician, Deirdre Murphy, said that if she had been made aware that Ms Chunling wanted an elective Caesarean section on admission on June 25th, 2020, she would have advised her one would not have been possible until June 29th, 2020 as they were not performed over weekends.
Prof Murphy said she believed there may have been a “misinterpretation” by the patient over emergency and elective Caesarean sections. However, she accepted it could have arisen from language difficulties.
Prof Murphy agreed that it was “absolutely the case” that the baby would have been born alive if Ms Chunling had been given a Caesarean section when she asked for one.
The inquest heard that an emergency Caesarean section was performed at 4.20am on June 28th, 2020, after an ultrasound scan confirmed one of the twins had died in her mother’s womb.
Counsel for the hospital Conor Halpin SC informed the inquest that records showed the patient was seen on six occasions by a doctor during her stay.
Several doctors and midwives also gave evidence that they did not believe Ms Chunling, who works in a Chinese takeaway, had any difficulty in understanding English and had no recollection that she had asked for an interpreter.
However, her own counsel Richard Kean SC observed that there was a difference between “talking about a spring roll and amniocentesis”.
A post-mortem on the baby’s body showed she had died as a result of a lack of oxygen from a prolapse of the umbilical cord and associated compression of the cord.
Returning a narrative verdict, Dr Gallagher said the case was complex which meant she could not make a finding of death due to natural causes.
Although counsel for Ms Chunling has sought a verdict of medical misadventure, the coroner said it was not clear that there was any specific act or omission which has resulted in the baby’s death.
While she could not resolve the conflict in evidence over the use of an interpreter, Dr Gallagher recommended that the HSE and the Coombe Hospital should consider making more widespread and proactive use of interpreters given the diverse nature of the Irish population.