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Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK


Health

Doctors accused over baby overdose

The GMC will decide whether the charges are valid

A senior doctor has been accused of covering up an error which led to the death of a day-old baby.


The BBC's Daniella Relph: The morphine was not mentioned on the death certificate
Consultant paediatrician Jean Shorland and two other doctors at Rotherham General Hospital face charges of serious professional misconduct before the General Medical Council (GMC).

The charges relate to the death of baby Louise Wood in 1995.

She was given a dose of morphine which was 100 times stronger than she should have been.

If found guilty of the charges, the three doctors could be banned from operating.

Ms Shorland is accused of issuing a death certificate which did not mention the overdose and was "potentially misleading".

It said Louise died from a brain disease and breathing difficulties.

Ms Shorland also allegedly did not inform the coroner's office of Louise's death on 3 October 1995 until two days later.

GMC barrister Rosalind Foster said that Ms Shorland did not conceal the overdose from Louise's parents, but did "underplay" it.

Overdose

The other doctors - senior house officer Hilary Evans and senior registrar Vivian Michel are accused of ignoring a nurse's advice that the dosage of morphine was too high.

Louise, who was born seven weeks prematurely and had difficulty breathing, was given the morphine to sedate her.

Dr Evans is alleged to have miscalculated the amount of morphine she needed by 100 times after writing the sum down on a piece of scrap paper.

The dosage should have been 0.15 milligrams, but was in fact 15 milligrams.

Dr Michel was given the morphine and reportedly failed to spot that the dosage was too high.

A 1997 inquest into the death recorded an open verdict.

The coroner also criticised Dr Evans for her lack of mathematical skills.

Police investigated the incident, but brought no charges.

Nurse quizzed doctor

One of the nurses who was involved in caring for Louise before she died told the GMC hearing Dr Michel had injected the baby girl, who weighed around 1.5kg, with the morphine.

Sister Beverley Lomas said: "She (Louise) became so relaxed so suddenly.

"I asked him how much he had given her and he said 15 milligrams.

"I said she only required 100 micrograms per kilo of bodyweight.

"He looked shocked and said `oh, you are right'."

Sister Lomas said that after Louise had died Dr Evans had been very upset about it, as had other members of staff.

"She said she felt like she had killed one of our babies."

About half-an-hour after Louise had received the overdose of morphine, Dr Shorland arrived.

Another nurse, Sister Jane Lawrence, said Dr Michel had given Dr Shorland a summary of what had happened to Louise.

Dr Shorland then had to tell Louise's mother Lynda Wood, that her daughter was dying.

"She said it in a blunt manner. I would say not much compassion was shown."

Sister Lawrence said Dr Shorland told the parents that Louise had had a large dose of morphine, but she did not tell them the size of it or who gave it to her.

Family give evidence

The baby's father Brian Purshouse told the hearing he and his wife only found out 16 months after the baby's death that she had been given the wrong dose of morphine.

He said: "She (Dr Shorland) just said `there has been a mistake. We overdosed on morphine and we have counter-acted it with an antidote'. She just said it was a large amount."

Earlier, Lynda's father, Herbert Wood, had told the committee that Dr Shorland was "horrible - very abrupt" when she told the family what had happened to Louise.

"She said `I have got to admit that I overdosed on morphine but I rectified it straight away'," said Mr Wood.

Mr Purshouse said Dr Shorland, who did not attend today's hearing, did not tell them the extent of the overdose or who gave it to her.

They assumed it was Dr Shorland who administered the morphine and did not find out the truth until much later.

The GMC hearing is expected to continue until the end of the week.



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