'We will forever cherish Luke': Mother sobs at inquest into newborn son's death

'We will forever cherish Luke': Mother sobs at inquest into newborn son's death

Mel and Lisa Duffy, from Mountrath, Co Laois, outside Portlaoise Coroner's Court after the inquest into the death of their baby son Luke, who died at Portlaoise Hospital in October 29, 2018. Picture: Neil Michael.

The mother of a baby boy who was stillborn at Portlaoise Hospital has told an inquest that babies were dying because "medical staff are failing to listen to mothers and think they know best".

Lisa Duffy sobbed uncontrollably on Monday as she gave evidence at the inquest into the death of her son, Luke, who was stillborn at Portlaoise Hospital on October 29, 2018.

Ms Duffy told the inquest she was suffering from increasingly severe back contractions at the end of her pregnancy, believed she was in labour and wanted to be induced.

She was initially due to be induced in the week leading up to October 26, 2018, but a doctor – who was not present at Monday's inquest – insisted she be induced instead on October 29.

The inquest at Portlaoise Coroner’s Court in Co Laois was told staff at the hospital did not carry out basic checks that could have confirmed whether or not the 36-year-old was in labour.

This was despite the fact Ms Duffy was showing signs of high blood pressure, hypertension, and the potentially fatal pregnancy complication, preeclampsia.

At the start of the inquest, senior barrister for the HSE Conor Halpin read out a brief statement from Michael Knowles, Portlaoise Hospital's general manager.

In the statement, Mr Knowles apologised for and said he “sincerely regretted” the “failings of care” that “should not have happened”.

And he assured the inquest the hospital would do “everything it can to make sure this does not happen again”.

Ms Duffy, from Mountrath, Co Laois, broke down as she placed a framed photograph of Baby Luke on a ledge of the witness box.

She turned the photograph to face the hushed courtroom, showing the inscription  “Precious Baby”.

Ms Duffy outlined details of the days and hours leading up to her son’s stillbirth, and during some of her evidence, her husband Mel stood by her side, his arm on her shoulder.

The inquest heard she had repeatedly asked to be induced, in line with an initial plan, in the week up to around October 26.

She told staff she was experiencing increasingly excruciating pain that had reduced her to tears. She said during one consultation with her doctor the pain was so severe that she was unable to speak.

The inquest heard that by the morning of Monday, October 29, her baby’s heartbeat had stopped.

Ms Duffy said. “Healthy babies are losing their lives because medical staff think they know best. Women need to be listened to.

“Women know their own bodies and medical staff need to act on that and not wait and see.

“It’s not safe.” 

Medical misadventure

Coroner Eugene O'Connor recorded a verdict of medical misadventure.

Because of the lack of face-to-face reviews by consultants at Portlaoise in the crucial days leading up to Baby Luke's death, and because of a request by the Duffy family, he made a number of recommendations.

He said: "On-site consultant expertise should be available at all times for obstetric units and should be accessible to the medical staff, the nursing and midwifery teams of these units."

In relation to Ms Duffy's experience of her persistent back pain not being acted on as an indicator that she was in labour, he also made a recommendation about training.

He said: "There should be regular training on the signs of labour to include the fact that, at any particular time, primary indicators or the only indicator of the commencement of labour can include back pain."

Addressing the family, he said: "This has been a very difficult matter for the Duffy family.

"I do think a sequence of events brought about what occurred.

"It does seem to be a set of circumstances that would merit a verdict of medical misadventure."

Afterwards, the tearful couple issued a brief statement. It read: "We, the parents of baby Luke Duffy, acknowledge the apology of Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise for the failures in their care that led to the death of our perfect firstborn son. 

"Luke's passing is something we have known from the start that never should have happened and the tragic events of the October bank holiday weekend 2018 continue to cast a shadow over our lives.

"We will forever cherish Luke and miss him day and night.

"We believe that learnings must come from his sad and needless loss and that expectant mothers must be listened to for the safety of both the mother and their baby and individual staff accountability for all must be the watchword from this day forward."

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