Mother who lost baby in ambulance wins €170k award


Fiona Ní Choncubhair and her husband Stephen Cotter.
Fiona Ní Choncubhair and her husband Stephen Cotter.


A KERRY mother, whose baby was stillborn after she was sent on a two-hour ambulance journey from Kerry to Cork without equipment for a blood transfusion, says she has little faith that the mistakes that led to her baby's death won't be repeated.

Last Friday, Fiona Ní Chonchubhair, who is originally from Tralee but now lives in Killarney, was awarded €170,000 in damages by the High Court arising from the death of her baby boy Aodh in May 2009.

Awarding the damages Mr Justice Seán Ryan was scathing in his criticism of both the HSE and Kerry General Hospital (KGH) whom he accused of "disastrous incompetence" and "extraordinary ineptitude."

Fiona Ní Chonchubhair, a dentist, sued the HSE for severe personal injuries and shock due to negligence and breach of duty following the death of her baby son on May 16, 2009. The HSE had apologised and admitted liability in the case and last week's High Court hearing was held before Justice Ryan for assessment of damages.

The court heard that in May 2009 Mrs Ní Chonchubhair, who was 32 weeks pregnant, was taken to KGH suffering from internal bleeding. At KGH it was decided to send the critically-ill woman on a two-hour journey to Cork Regional Hospital, however the ambulance she was sent in did not contain equipment to provide her with a blood transfusion during the 71-mile journey.

Justice Ryan heard the situation was compounded by the fact that the ambulance seemingly took a slower than normal route between Kerry and Cork and when the ambulance did arrive at Cork Regional Hospital the crew were unable to locate the hospital's Accident and Emergency Unit for a further 15 to 20 minutes.

Fiona Ní Chonchubhair was eventually operated on and received six units of blood to replace what she had lost but tragically it was too late for her baby son who was delivered still-born by emergency Cesarean section on May 16 2009.

The court heard that had the ambulance been equipped with the blood and staff to administer a transfusion Fiona Ní Chonchubhair's child would have survived and she herself would have been spared the trauma of losing her child.

Making his compensation order Justice Ryan was highly critical of the HSE and KGH.

Justice Ryan said what had happened involved "bad decision making" and "extraordinary ineptitude." Noting that Fiona Ní Chonchubhair and her husband, orthodontist Stephen Cotter, felt they had been ingnored and treated with some degree of indifference at KGH, Justice Ryan said that it was "scarcely credible in this day and age" that a patient suffering from internal bleeding could be placed in an ambulance without someone thinking of bringing the necessary crossmatched blood for transfusion.

Justice Ryan said the case was "an example of the most disastrous incompetence" and what had happened to Mrs Ní Chonchubhair and her husband was a "disaster" and "the stuff of nightmares".

After the incident the HSE had carried out an internal review of the case and made 12 recommendations to ensure it would not recur. However, Fiona Ní Chonchubhair said she had no confidence that these recommendations would be followed.

Stephen Cotter told the court that as health professionals their confidence had been shattered by the experience. Mrs Ní Chonchubair, who is now expecting her fifth child, said that she was so anxious to avoid a repetition of what happened that in he last two pregnancies, for the last three months of each, she rented a house in Cork to make sure she would be near Cork Regional Hospital and not Kerry General.

Speaking to TheKerryman following the case Fiona Ní Chonchubhair said she had taken the action to prevent a similar tragedy befalling anyone else.

"We started that case about three years ago and it was a relatively difficult process but not anywhere near as difficult as losing Aodh," she said.

"We took the case to prevent this happening to anyone else and we're pleased with the legal outcome," said Fiona Ní Chonchubhair.

Asked if she had believed that the HSE would implement the 12 recommendations made after her son's death, Fiona Ní Chonchubhair expressed little confidence that action will be taken saying simply: "Well, we'll see."

Now expecting her fifth child she said she plans to spend the last month of her pregnancy in Cork.