‘The nurse just asked me not to give birth’: Hong Kong woman says she lost her daughter because the hospital was too busy

Hospital’s chief of obstetrics and gynaecology concedes it was a “tragedy” that might have been avoided

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 12:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 12:34am

The case of a woman who lost her newborn daughter because the delivery wards were too “full” has highlighted the excessive burden of demand facing Hong Kong’s public hospitals.

The 33-year-old woman, identified as Mrs Chan, tearfully recalled her painful experience at Prince of Wales Hospital last year.

Chan was admitted to hospital on October 27. Despite repeatedly reporting intense pain, she could not be sent to the first stage ward, which is equipped with stronger pain relief medication and machines designed to continuously monitor the fetus’ heartbeat.

She was told to wait as the ward had four other mothers undergoing induced labour and a backlog of others waiting. Even the delivery suite, where painless delivery could be performed, was handling an emergency surgery for another mother.

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“Capacity had reached such a level that the safety of patients could not be assured,” she said.

“The nurse just asked me not to give birth [in the antenatal ward] even if I had the urge. I felt really helpless,” Chan said.

There were 39 other mothers waiting in the hospital’s antenatal ward that night with no machines to continuously monitor the heartbeat of Chan’s daughter.

Finally, Chan was rushed for urgent delivery about 2.5 hours after she was initially meant to go in, and only when nurses could no longer detect the fetus’ heartbeat.

Chan’s daughter suffered multi-organ failure and epilepsy after the birth and died four days later.

Doctors later concluded the baby’s death could have been caused by a placental abruption, a condition whereby the placental lining becomes separated from the mother’s uterus and the fetus loses nutrients and oxygen supply.

The hospital’s chief of obstetrics and gynaecology Dr Cheung Tak-hong conceded it was a “tragedy” that might have been avoided, and that medical staff failed to detect Chan’s condition on time due to such a busy ward.

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“If the wards were not handling so many high-risk patients, she could have be sent there and put on the monitoring machine... and the abruption might have been detected earlier,” he said.

He agreed that manpower needed to be increased, but said it was difficult to hire more doctors because of an overall shortage across the city, and it is not possible to set quotas to limit the number of mothers booked in for delivery services. There were more than 20 vacancies in his department but so far only 17 doctor interns have signed up to join.

Chan’s husband questioned why the hospital did not plan for the surge in deliveries, or have the manpower and resources available on that day in October, which is a peak period for child birth in Hong Kong and there can be 20 to 25 per cent more deliveries than in off-peak season.

“If they do not review their [resources] problem properly, such incidents would definitely happen again,” Chan said.

A hospital spokeswoman said independent experts had been invited to review the case and that on-duty obstetrics staff in the obstetrics department had conformed to “standard arrangements” on the day of Chan’s delivery.