Down's mother wins pounds 300,000 in damages

'If the test had come back positive, I would have had a termination in days'
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The Independent Online
The mother of a Down's Syndrome child who was refused a screening test is to receive pounds 300,000 damages after the Ministry of Defence, the department responsible for the hospital, agreed to an out-of-court settlement of her negligence claim.

Sandra Hurley, who is now 42, had told Mr Justice Hooper that if she had she known of her son Matthew's condition, she would have terminated the pregnancy.

Mrs Hurley, who was 35 at the time of the pregnancy, claimed that a doctor at Louis Margaret Maternity Hospital, Aldershot, Hampshire, was negligent in telling her that the chances of having a Down's Syndrome baby were no greater than if she had been 26.

The damages will help Mrs Hurley provide a good quality of life for Matthew, who was seven in June, and her two other children. She will also receive her legal costs. Experts said the size of the settlement, without admission of liability on the fourth day of the trial, indicated that her legal team were confident of winning while the defendants expected to lose. The case is bound to be carefully studied by health providers.

Mrs Hurley, from Aldershot, said Matthew was in good health and was doing well at school. "I can't tell you how pleased I am. If I'd had the test, I wouldn't have gone through with the pregnancy. But now he's here, I love him with all my heart and wouldn't be without him."

She had gone with her husband to her GP to ask for an amniocentesis test. When she went to the hospital, she said, she was advised of the 1-per- cent risk of the test causing the abortion of a healthy foetus and told that the hospital did not offer it to women of 35 because of the cost.

Her counsel, Richard Davies QC, told the court that the information was "clearly substandard" because statistics showed that a 35-year-old woman had up to a three-and-a-half times greater risk of giving birth to a Down's syndrome child than a woman aged 26.

Mrs Hurley said: "If I had had the test and it had come back positive I would have had a termination within days. There is no doubt about that. But he refused to give me the test and I was prepared to take the risk that it would cause me to miscarry."

The hospital doctor, Lawrence Roberts, who left the army with the rank of Lt Col, told the court he would never have told Mrs Hurley that her risks of having a Down's syndrome child were the same as that of a woman of 26. But he would have said during the "routine consultation" that the dangers were not "automatically higher in absolute terms than if she was 26". The risks of Down's syndrome were still not "very high" in a woman of 25, he said. Mrs Hurley's GP, Dr Anthony Raw, said he believed 35 was the beginning of serious risk of giving birth to a Down's syndrome child.

A woman who developed Aids after receiving a contaminated blood transfusion has received "substantial" damages from the Irish state. The unidentified married woman, a nurse from Co Kilkenny, started legal action against the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and the Department of Health. She was the first person in Ireland to be infected by a transfusion. The settlement was made without going to court. Legal observers reckoned the figure could have amounted to around pounds 250,000.