Ben Hills 

A major inquiry is about to begin into the cause of death and injury of hundreds of newborn babies at one of Australia’s largest maternity hospitals over the past 10 years.

King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth last year alone recorded more than 100 stillborn babies, more than twice the average rate of “adverse outcomes” at Australia’s 25 major maternity hospitals.

The hospital has settled 17 medical malpractice claims in the past five years, with a maximum payout of $300,000, says the State’s Health Minister, Mr John Day.

There are more than 100 more cases where the mother or child died or was injured during birth in which legal action has been threatened, compared with a national average of about one claim per hospital per year.

Among cases to be examined by a State ministerial inquiry is the death last year of Lewis, the first child of Tracey and Andrew Pearce of Nedlands. Lewis was born severely brain-damaged after what the Pearces claim was a bungled delivery at the hospital.

In another case, a mother was paid $100,000 damages after a hormone gel was used to accelerate birth contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions.

A third mother whose premature baby died earlier this year has become the first case referred for a coronial inquest.

In March, a preliminary closed-doors inquiry reported that “the incidence of poor obstetric outcomes is above the national benchmark/best practice”.

The report found that junior doctors were reluctant to call in specialists to help with difficult births for fear of being verbally “bashed up”, there was no proper system for monitoring “adverse outcomes”, and “allegations of tampering with case notes”.

But in an exclusive interview with the Herald, the hospital’s head of obstetrics, Dr Brian Roberman, claimed he was being made the scapegoat for government funding cuts which had led to a chronic shortage of medical staff at the hospital, run-down equipment, and facilities he called “life threatening”.

Dr Roberman said the inquiry was “a beat-up to get rid of the hospital”, claiming the Government had a secret agenda to amalgamate King Edward with another hospital.

Since the controversy became public in March, there has been a fall in the number of patients at King Edward, with many mothers refusing to have their babies there. Dr Roberman says this has led to a dangerous situation where difficult births are not being referred to the State’s only maternity teaching hospital.


Fact File

King Edward Memorial Hospital, Perth

– King Edward Memorial Hospital is WA’s only maternity teaching hospital, and one of – Australia’s largest.

– A total of 5,132 children were born there last year, about one in four of all the babies born in Perth.

– There were 111 “adverse outcomes” in 1999, including 102 stillbirths more than double the national average.

– A ministerial inquiry, headed by Perth lawyer Mr Neil Douglas, was announced on April 14. It is due to report by September 29, but no dates or details of hearings have been set.

Publishing Info

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Pub date: Tuesday 8 August 2000
Edition: Late
Section: News And Features
Sub section:
Page: 1
Word count: 539
Classification: Health/Complaints Malpractice Health/Childbirth Health/Hospitals
Geographic area: Perth WA
Caption: Claims of a bungled delivery at Perth’s King Edward Memorial Hospital … Tracey Pearce with her severely brain-damaged son, Lewis, who later died.
Comments: Fact file has been joined to story.