Nurse wins landmark compensation from her hospital after stillborn birth

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The Independent Online

A nurse who claimed her own hospital let her baby die because doctors decided she would not want to bring up a brain-damaged child has won up to £100,000 compensation.

Hayley Wilson's baby, Liam, died on 19 February 1998 after serious complications leading up to his birth.

The hospital has hired private detectives to trace Tarek El Gendy, the doctor who was caring for her, who is now living in Saudi Arabia.

Medical negligence lawyers said the case breaks with the established principle that compensation cannot be awarded for the birth of a stillborn child.

Mrs Wilson, 33, a theatre nurse who had decided to have her baby at the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, where she worked, claimed her Caesarean delivery was not treated as an emergency because doctors had decided that if the baby survived the birth, it would have been severely brain-damaged.

Mrs Wilson, from Thetford, Norfolk, who has three other children, is adamant that if she had been told of the risk, she would have chosen to have the child. "There is no doubt I would have asked them to try to save Liam, no matter how brain-damaged he would have been, but no one asked me my opinion," she said. "If this can happen in my own hospital, imagine what it must be like for other mothers who have no connection with the hospital.''

After Liam's death, Mrs Wilson asked the hospital for an apology but it refused. Instead, its solicitors wrote to her saying "Our clients are clear that even an earlier Caesarean section would have produced the same result (namely a stillbirth) or even worse, a badly brain-damaged baby.''

Mrs Wilson said Liam had moved inside her before the operation, so she knew he was alive. "If they had apologised to me from the start, they could have saved everybody a lot of heartache and pain," she said. This has never been about the money.''

Mrs Wilson's lawyers argued that under the Human Rights Act she had the right to be fully consulted about decisions leading up to the birth of her child.

Mrs Wilson became pregnant in May 1997. She and her husband had planned the pregnancy, and Liam was to have been a loved child. When the usual prenatal tests showed she was suffering from "intrauterine growth retardation'' – which meant her baby would be smaller than normal – she commenced twice-weekly cardiotocography, a test which records the foetal heart rate and uterine contractions.

No abnormalities were found until 19 February 1998, when her consultant identified an increase in blood pressure and other complications, which he believed threatened the life of the foetus, and recommended an emergency Caesarean.

Mrs Wilson was placed in the care of Dr El Gendy. At midday, tests showed foetal distress and a "crash'' emergency Caesarean was ordered. But Mrs Wilson claims there was no sense of urgency and that Dr El Gendy had already decided to take no action to resuscitate the baby, believing it to be already dead or likely to suffer brain damage if it was born alive. In the event, Liam was delivered stillborn.

Simon John, Mrs Wilson's solicitor, said: "Dr El Gendy's duty was clear. If there was any reasonable possibility that Liam could be resuscitated, he was obliged to consult Hayley for her views. If he had warned her that she might give birth to a brain-damaged child, she would have told him she would prefer a damaged child to a dead child.''

Mrs Wilson won a five-figure out-of-court settlement from the hospital last week. As part of the settlement, in which the hospital does not admit liability, its lawyers have handed her Dr El Gendy's contact details because he has failed to respond to their inquiries.

Mrs Wilson is currently undergoing grief counselling and is absent from work, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.