Midwife admits failure to communicate

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The midwife facing misconduct allegations admits she failed to communicate her medical episode while delivering a Queenstown mum’s baby.

The central-South Island midwife, who has interim name suppression, gave evidence at a Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal hearing in Queenstown yesterday.

Known as ‘Ms P’, she is accused of failing to provide adequate care to Sara Gutzewitz immediately after Gutzewitz’s traumatic labour at Southland Hospital on February 7, 2010.

Gutzewitz’s baby was born through a huge tear in her perineum. After the baby’s arrival, Ms P is alleged to have “dumped” the baby on Gutzewitz’s abdomen and left the room. She was allegedly overheard in the nurses’ station to remark that the perineum had “exploded”.

Ms P claims she left Gutzewitz, her husband Conan Wilcox and mum Jan Gutzevitz in the birthing unit with hospital midwife Valerie Drake, but five people, including Drake and on-call obstetrician Dr Keith Allenby, maintain the family was left on their own. Jan Gutzewitz had to clear mucus from the baby’s mouth and nose.

Ms P had suffered an episode of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), an anxiety condition resulting in a rapid heart rate, which she was diagnosed with in 2003.

She initially claimed to have never experienced SVT while performing her midwifery duties but yesterday admitted having three prior episodes in the early stages of her 12-year career.

During extensive cross-examination by Health and Disability Commissioner Act director of proceedings Aaron Martin, Ms P says she was able to physically communicate that she was feeling unwell and that she had plenty of opportunities to declare that fact to hospital staff and Gutzewitz and her family, but she failed to do so.

She also admitted that her labour documentation notes – which were completed after the birth and made no mention of her feeling unwell or having to leave the room after the birth – “did not truly reflect what was going on”.

Ms P accepted that midwifes adhered to professional competency standards, which included “partnership” with the mother and “planning” that considers the safety of the mother and baby.

Ms P admitted that her actions that day potentially compromised that partnership standard.

“I would like to acknowledge, with the benefit of hindsight, that I could have communicated better with my clients and my colleagues about my SVT,” she told the hearing.

“In light of this event I have voluntarily changed my practice to ensure that my colleagues, birthing unites, and all prospective clients are informed about my condition, what it means for them and how it might impact on the provision of care.”

However, a Queenstown couple expecting a baby in 2012 – whose identities are suppressed – claim Ms P didn’t tell them about her condition during her midwifery visits in January-March last year. Ms P says she normally told expectant mothers about her SVT at a later stage in their pregnancy.

Ms P adds: “I deeply regret that my condition momentarily impacted on the care that I provided to Sara and her baby. I understand how distressing that has been for the whole family.”

The hearing continues today.