Woman wrongly told baby had no foetal heartbeat

Review after Portlaoise hospital incident which left mother feeling ‘joy’ and ‘anger’

A woman coping with the news her unborn child had been dead for five weeks, found out in a follow-up scan two days later the baby was alive with a clear heartbeat.

A review is under way into the incident which occurred this week at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise, the focal point of a number of recent maternity service controversies.

Aimee Nolan (26) said she did not know how to react when told an original scan on Monday, which found no sign of a foetal heartbeat or growth, was incorrect.

The mother of one, originally from Dublin but living in Co Offaly, had also been given advice on what medication she could take in the immediate aftermath but had not taken it.


Returned to the hospital

On Wednesday, she and her husband returned to the hospital for a meeting with a senior nurse and a consultant regarding her care.

“The head person came down; she wanted to scan me. She was over the whole EPU [early pregnancy unit] to scan people for reasons like this, just to check again,” Ms Nolan explained.

“Straight away I saw that the baby had a heartbeat because it was flickering away and it looked like a normal size to me. They [the medical staff] all just kept looking at each other [as if saying]: how was this woman told that her baby was dead and we can all clearly see that there is still a heartbeat there?”

She was told despite the initial reading the baby had grown and had a healthy heartbeat.

“Joy, anger, shock; I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, lash out, ask what the hell happened. Why were we told our baby was dead and then when we come in two days later it’s not measuring nine weeks, it’s actually measuring 14 weeks and it has a heartbeat?”

Latest controversy

It is the latest controversy regarding maternity services at the hospital. On Wednesday, an inquest delivered a verdict of medical misadventure in the case of

Mary Kate Kelly

who was stillborn there in 2013.

At 34-weeks-pregnant, her mother Amy Delahunt attended the hospital where she was told everything was fine and sent home even though a cardiotocography showed significant decelerations on the foetal heart trace.

News of the child's death was discovered during a visit to Limerick Maternity Hospital the following day.

Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch described the case as “very disturbing”.

“Clearly what did happen shouldn’t happen,” she said.

Ms Lynch said she would ask the HSE "what exactly is going on in Portlaoise. We've had an extensive investigation and certain measures were taken and really it's quite disturbing to see this type of incident again," she told RTÉ's Prime Time programme.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times