Midwife cleared of misconduct, identity revealed

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The midwife accused of professional misconduct after a Queenstown’s mother’s labour has been cleared of wrongdoing.

The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal dismissed the charge against Clyde woman Jan Louise Scherp at a hearing in Queenstown today.

The name suppression of Scherp, previously known as “Ms P” under an interim order, was lifted at the conclusion of the hearing.

The charge of professional misconduct, brought under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, comprised five elements, including failure to communicate to other midwives, clinical staff and her client that she had a medical anxiety condition, supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) that could potentially compromise care during labour; failing to communicate the fact that she was feeling unwell to her client and medical staff during the labour and leaving the birthing room after the baby was born without ensuring adequate midwifery care for her client and the newborn baby.

The matter related to the labour of Queenstown mum Sarah Gutzewitz, for whom Scherp was the lead maternity care provider at Southland Hospital on February 7, 2010.

Gutzewitz’s healthy baby boy was born through a significant tear of the perineum and after the baby’s arrival, Scherp was alleged to have “dumped” the baby on Gutzewitz’s abdomen and left the room for between five and 15 minutes while she dealt with an SVT episode. She was allegedly overheard in the nurses’ station to remark that the perineum had “exploded”.

Scherp claimed 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. Drake gave evidence that she was not present for the birth and was not asked to stay in the room. Gutzewitz’s mother Jan Gutzewitz had to clear mucus from the baby’s mouth and nose.

The tribunal – made up of three midwives, one lawyer and one lay person – accepted Scherp’s evidence that there was another midwife in the room and that Scherp asked her to stay.

The tribunal accepted that the family was left on their own at some stage but it would have been for a short period of time and, assessing the totality of evidence, it did not amount to misconduct on Scherp’s behalf.

The tribunal found that Scherp was not obligated to disclose her condition to Sara or her husband Conan Wilcox. They found that Scherp’s communication about how she was feeling at the time “might not have been adequate” but it did not amount to misconduct.

Scherp works for Central Otago midwifes group Sage Femme. Her professional practice remains under supervision.

Tribunal chair David Carden acknowledged the considerable stress and trauma involved for Gutzewitz and her family.