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Parents asked to bring baby's body out back entrance of hospital, inquest told

Baby Kevin McNeill died at the National Maternity Hospital on 17 February 2019.

National Maternity Hospital in Dublin
National Maternity Hospital in Dublin
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE MOTHER OF a newborn baby who suffered fatal brain injuries around the time of his birth three years ago has criticised the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street in Dublin over being told to bring her son’s body out a back entrance of the hospital used by staff.

Shauna McNeill from Donaghmede, Dublin told an inquest into the death of her son, Kevin, at the NMH on 17 February 2019 – seven days after his birth – that she and her partner Kevin Lee believed the hospital “wanted to keep his life a secret”.

“Baby Kevin was not afforded the same dignity as other healthy babies leaving the hospital through the front door,” said McNeill.

She said her family was not extended the same courtesy as other parents and had been informed by one midwife that it would be “easier to get a car around the back”.

“We felt our dignity was being taken from us,” said McNeill, who gave birth to a baby girl, Aria (2) a year later.

A sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court today heard how it was “devastating” for McNeill and her partner to watch their first-born child die in their arms after a decision was taken to remove a life-support machine from Kevin.

“I will never forget the feeling of watching my baby boy die in my arms,” said McNeill.

A post-mortem on the body of the baby found he died as a result of a group B sepsis infection which caused septic shock resulting in severe brain injuries and adrenal bleeding.

Pathologist, Paul Downey, said the baby had become stressed in the womb for three hours prior to being delivered.

Dr Downey said his mother’s placenta was quite inflamed which suggested it had become infected at least 12 hours before Kevin was born and possibly up to 36 hours before his birth.

He noted the placenta had remained inflamed despite McNeill being treated with antibiotics on admission to the hospital.

In response to questions from the coroner, Clare Keane, Dr Downey said there was no easy way to diagnose group B sepsis before a baby is born.

The pathologist said there was also no evidence that the use of forceps to deliver Kevin was a contributory factor in his death.

Evidence 

In evidence, McNeill said the pregnancy of her first child had been progressing normally until she had gone into labour when she was informed on 10 February 2019 that the fetal heart rate had dropped and the baby would not come out.

The inquest heard medical staff took a decision to transfer McNeill to an operating theatre after a failed forceps delivery.

“I was in a lot of pain. I remember the doctor and midwives were panicking,” McNeill recalled.

She remembered the consultant obstetrician on call, Michael Robson, telling her that there was no time for surgery because of the need to deliver her baby because its heart rate was too low.

“I was terrified. I remember baby Kevin coming out but not crying. I was worried he was not crying,” said McNeill.

She added: “I was very upset and scared that I was going to lose my baby. I knew something was not right.”

McNeill said she was told over the next few days that baby Kevin had suffered massive brain damage and would not survive on his own.

She said they were “devastated” by the news and that nobody explained what precisely had happened during her labour.

McNeill said she had never been informed prior to Kevin’s birth about the in-utero infection.

Consultant neonatologist, Claudine Vavasseur, who oversaw the baby’s treatment after birth, said he had brain injuries “at the most severe end of the spectrum”.

Dr Vavasseur said baby Kevin had a serious infection that affected around one in 1,000 births each year, which also had a significant mortality rate.

In relation to the family’s concerns, Dr Vavasseur said she hoped and thought that the NHM had changed its policy in relation to how parents removed the bodies of deceased children from the hospital.

“I’m sorry they went through that. They absolutely have the right to walk out the front door like any other parents,” Dr Vavasseur remarked.

Counsel for Kevin’s parents, Conor Kearney, BL urged the coroner to find the baby boy died as a result of medical misadventure based on admissions made by the hospital.

Kearney said there were separate civil proceedings in relation to Kevin’s death and the NMH had already accepted there had been a breach of duty by staff and had issued a statement of regret.

However, Kearney said the hospital had not issued an apology.

Counsel for the NMH, David Boughton BL, said he did not believe a verdict of medical misadventure was open to the coroner.

Based on the pathological evidence and balance of probabilities, Dr Keane returned a verdict of death by natural causes.

As a recommendation, the coroner said she would write to the Master of Holles Street to request that parents with deceased children be given the choice over how they left the hospital “and to afford them dignity in the tragic circumstances in which they find themselves.”

Family statement

Following the inquest, solicitor, Piarais Neary, issued a statement on behalf of the McNeill family in which they said they did not accept the coroner’s verdict given admissions already made by the NMH but welcomed her recommendation on families of deceased children no longer being compelled to leave through the back door of the hospital.

Neary said the recommendation would give families the choice over how they left the hospital “affording them the maximum amount of dignity”.

The solicitor said Kevin was to be the older brother to Aria who was born just three days before what would have been his first birthday.

“Baby Kevin will always be in his parents’ hearts,” he added.

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About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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