Doctor calls on coroners service to investigate newborn death

An outspoken anesthetist says a lack of staffing could have contributed to the death of a newborn at Victoria General Hospital on Aug. 9.

  • Aug. 16, 2011 10:00 a.m.

An outspoken anesthetist says a lack of staffing could have contributed to the death of a newborn at Victoria General Hospital on Aug. 9.

Sue Ferreira went public with her concern over the shortage of anesthetists after she handed in her resignation to Victoria General Hospital in June.

Now in her last week on the job, she says the tragic death could have been avoided if there was a dedicated anesthetist in maternity. She’s calling on the B.C. Coroners Service to independently confirm this.

Vancouver Island Health Authority is bound by patient confidentiality not to publicly release details of the case, but in an email to media, Ferreira said a labouring mother required an emergency cesarean section at a time when the hospital’s lone anesthetist was occupied with other surgeries. A second anesthetist was called in, but the unborn child was in severe medical distress and died before delivery.

“What we know is that there was a delay in care. What we need to find out is whether that delay was the reason this baby did not survive,” Ferreira wrote.

Island regional coroner Matt Brown said he can’t investigate the case because the child is considered a stillborn.

“If it never took a breath, it’s not a live birth,” Brown said. “If there’s no birth, there’s no death for us to investigate.”

VIHA has initiated its own review, which chief medical officer Dr. Richard Crow said is standard procedure for any unexpected death in the hospital.

“Doing the review does not mean there’s anything untoward, the purpose is see if there are quality improvements that can be made,” Crow said.

He stressed that while other hospitals in the province have a shortage of anesthetists, this is not the case in Victoria where there are 40 anesthetists, including 21 who provide on-call service for maternity care at Victoria General. The one current job opening for a general anesthetist has nine applicants, he said.

VIHA has one anesthetist in the hospital at all times and has tried to recruit specialized obstetric anesthetists to work around the clock in the maternity.

In 2009 VIHA offered $1.88 million for the 5.4 anesthetists needed to provide that service, an equivalent of $348,000 per anesthetist, which Crow said is the maximum available funding for that specialty, a rate set by the province and the B.C. medical association.

James Helliwell, president of the B.C. Anesthesiologists Society, said the positions weren’t filled because no qualified anesthetist would work for that rate.

“In B.C. workloads are higher than the rest of the country … skilled anesthetists are choosing jobs elsewhere,” Helliwell said, calling on the province to launch an independent review into how to improve working conditions to recruit the needed anesthetists to the province.

To work around having an anesthetist dedicated to maternity care, VIHA undertook a risk analysis study in 2009 that highlighted the “severe or catastrophic risks” associated with needing to call in a doctor for an emergency C-section.

The report recommended ways to improve communication between hospital staff and assess when a C-section is likely, so the second anesthetist can be on their way sooner.

Crow said an anesthetist usually responds to a call within 10 to 20 minutes. And though he couldn’t speak to the Aug. 9 case in particular, he said he wasn’t aware of any undue delays.

“It would be highly speculative and inappropriate to try to say what contributed to the death before the review is complete,” he said. “It’s almost always multi-factoral.”

All hospital births in Greater Victoria and all high-risk births for Vancouver Island are handled at Victoria General. About 3,500 babies are born there each year.

news@goldstreamgazette.com

 

 

Just Posted

New secondary school planned for north Langford

Province announces $18.6 million in funding for site

Confusing parking lot blamed for cars tipping into flowerbeds at Peninsula Canadian Tire

Tow and repairs cost thousands, engineer says drivers’ responsibility, Canadian Tire stay quiet

Saanich says it will take months to fix a sink hole that appeared during ‘Snowmaggedon’

Roads closed in the area after the sink hole first opened in early February

Change room thief nabbed by West Shore RCMP Bike Unit

Quick-thinking caller leads police to suspect after witnessing theft

Victoria Shamrocks win proves costly

Shamrocks lose Rhys Duch to a season-ending injury

WATCH: Barbers battle it out in Victoria

‘Barber Battle’ saw stylists and barbers from across North America go head-to-head

Dash-cam video in trial of accused cop killer shows man with a gun

Footage is shown at trial of Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Const. John Davidson of Abbotsford

Suicide confirmed in case of B.C. father who’d been missing for months

2018 disappearance sparked massive search for Ben Kilmer

Eight U.S. senators write to John Horgan over B.C. mining pollution

The dispute stems from Teck Resources’ coal mines in B.C.’s Elk Valley

Threats charge against Surrey’s Jaspal Atwal stayed

Atwal, 64, was at centre of controversy in 2018 over his attendance at prime minister’s reception in India

Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to speak in Surrey

He’s keynote speaker at Surrey Environment and Business Awards luncheon by Surrey Board of Trade Sept. 17

Otters devour 150 trout at Kootenay hatchery

The hatchery has lost close to 150 fish in the past several months

B.C. church’s Pride flag defaced for second time in 12 days

Delta’s Ladner United Church says it will continue to fly the flag for Pride month

Update: Two shot, two arrested at Toronto Raptors victory rally

The team and several dignitaries, including Justin Trudeau, remained on stage

Most Read