Women sue top hospital over Down's test blunder

Pregnancy error: Healthy baby aborted after laboratory mix-up samples
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Two women are suing a pioneering hospital after a mix-up in which a pregnant patient had her healthy baby aborted, having been told wrongly that it had Down's syndrome.

Her test results were mixed up with those of 28-year-old Michelle Woods, who was told she was carrying a healthy boy, when in fact her baby was a Down's syndrome girl. Ms Woods also had an abortion.

The mistake happened at the world-famous Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, which has featured in BBC Television's Hospital Watch and is known as a pioneering transplant hospital.

Addenbrooke's has accepted it was a case of human error. A letter of apology has been sent to both women and extra checks have been introduced to prevent such mistakes happening again.

Chris Coe, head of communications at Addenbrooke's, said yesterday that he believed both women were taking legal action. It is likely the matter will be settled out of court.

The mix-up occurred in a laboratory, when two test samples were wrongly labelled. It was discovered on 4 September. Both women were patients at West Suffolk hospital, whose samples were sent in Addenbrooke's regional genetics laboratory to be tested for Down's syndrome. The woman who lost the healthy baby has not been identified.

A statement from Addenbrooke's said: "An error in labelling samples led to one of these patients being incorrectly informed that her baby had Down's syndrome, and she subsequently terminated her pregnancy."

Routine tests on the aborted foetus of the healthy baby confirmed that it did not have Down's syndrome.

The statement added that the other patient, Ms Woods, was wrongly informed that her baby was healthy, but was told of the mistake by her consultant while still in the early days of pregnancy, and was therefore still able to make choices about her unborn baby's future.

"A subsequent internal inquiry revealed that the two patients' samples had interchanged labels, and human error was found to be the cause of this mistake," the statement said.

Ms Woods, of Thetford, Norfolk, told the Today newspaper: "I feel sorry for the other lady because she suffered much more. If she hadn't had the termination she would have had a perfect baby."

Two inquiries, one internal and one external, were held into the tragedy in September. Because of the number of people working in the laboratory it was impossible to say who was individually responsible for the mistake. Procedures have since been tightened up and extra checks introduced.

Professor Martin Bobrow, clinical director of medical genetics at Addenbrooke's, said: "We have offered an unqualified apology to these two families. My staff are devastated that such a mistake, which has never happened here before, could have occurred."