Exclusive report: Seven baby deaths in seven weeks - are Waikato Hospital's maternity services in crisis?

A Waikato mother is disgusted with the medical care she was subject to at Waikato Hospital, saying a lack of action led to her baby's death and very nearly her own.

"It's only by the grace of God that I'm not with my baby girl.

"They had 17 hours to save my life and my daughter's life and they did nothing," she said.

The woman and her husband, both experienced health professionals, have spoken to 1 NEWS about their ordeal in January this year, but wish to remain anonymous.

They say they've been told their baby's death was the seventh in seven weeks at Waikato's maternity unit.  

'I was struggling to breathe'

Kate was 28 weeks pregnant when she was woken by excruciating abdominal pain in the middle of the night in January.

She was no stranger to pain, her experience living with severe endometriosis which led to her having an ovary and kidney removed and she'd built a high pain threshold.

But this was different, she said she could hardly breathe.

The couple rushed to the hospital at 1.30am where a duty midwife said staff were 'extremely busy' and the baby would be monitored through a device until the doctor could visit a few hours later. No pain relief could be administered until after that, Kate was told.

At around 5am, the blood results showed Kate wasn't in premature labour and she was told a general surgeon would review her in the morning. The pain relief wasn't working.

"They were worried enough that I needed to be constantly monitored baby wise, but yet they weren't worried enough to see why, or what was actually wrong with me..." she said.

The morning shift started but no surgeon met Kate. When she asked when they would come, she was told they'd have to wait and see. Her pain was progressively getting worse.

"I got to the point that all I could do was grip the bedsheets and sob and cry," she said.

It would be 12 more hours before Kate was seen by an obstetrician, seventeen hours more before she was sent for a scan.

"On my way down to the scan I vomited black coloured water with big blood clots," she said.

She said she knew she needed to pee after the scan, but her inability to do so was a realisation something was "really wrong."

She vomited blood clots again before her midwife told her the cause was unknown as the scan didn't show anything.

"I turn around and say to my husband and I grab hold of his hand and I said to him very clearly, 'I think I'm dying.'"

Kate went into cardiac arrest.

An anuerysm which ruptured her uterus and leaked eight litres of blood in her abdomen was the cause.

Emergency operation

It took 43 minutes from the time she collapsed to the time her daughter was delivered.

"We know that if a person is deprived of oxygen for ten minutes... there's irreversible damage," she said.

Kate was told her baby was fine.

"I felt scared in lots of ways... I've got this prem baby, but at the same time I thought, 'Phew, luckily that I was in hospital, luckily they managed to deliver my little girl and she was fine."

Kate's fears of brain damage heightened when she was wheeled to see her baby, several days later, and saw that her hands and feet were bent at unnatural angles.

A doctor later said her daughter was likely to have a brain injury caused by the traumatic surroundings of her birth. An MRI scan at eight weeks would determine the severity, she was told.

But that date was never met, the baby was unable to breathe on her own at three weeks old and had developed pneumonia that needed antibiotics.

"We asked them to not give her antibiotics and to turn the ventilator off, and to let her go."

"We didn't want our little girl to suffer," her husband said.

No apology

Kate learnt from her hospital notes that the scan she was told showed nothing, had actually showed an aneurysm.

An ACC investigation carried out by an independent obstetrician is damning of the treatment Kate received.

It reports her obstetrician should have seen her sooner. It says if they'd operated earlier, they would have detected an imminent rupture and an emergency caeserean would have saved her baby's life.

"They stuffed around for 17 hours, causing me to collapse... causing me to lose my baby... and they've never said sorry," she said.

Kate said she is "absolutely furious" over what happened.

"This is a place where you're supposed to go to get care, to get help... You trust the people to make sound judgements, to make sound calls."

A well-placed source told Kate her baby's death was the seventh in seven weeks at Waikato Hospital's maternity unit, a statistic that's left her disgusted.

"We are not a third-world country... we aren't out the back of Zimbabwe somewhere having babies."

Last week it was revealed that a baby died at the hospital after an emergency caesarean took priority over a mother's scheduled caesarean, prompting doctors to warn that the lives of women and babies were being put at risk there.

The couple have had no apology from the Waikato District Health Board or acknowledgment of wrong-doing.

A spokeswoman for the board said in a statement that the case cannot be discussed due to privacy issues.

'We have carried out a review of this case which we have shared with the mother and have offered to meet with her to discuss it,' she said.

The board said it believes the review was carried out in the appropriate time frame.

On average, one baby dies in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit a fortnight and the board said this is comparable to other district health boards in the country.

It refutes the figure of seven deaths in seven weeks.

The matter's now been referred to the coroner.

Have you or someone you know lost a baby due to a botched delivery? Email paul.hobbs@tvnz.co.nz

1 NEWS speaks to a woman whose baby died after she was left languishing in the hospital for 17 hours. Source: 1 NEWS

More chlorination likely with water services set to be centralised

The Government is set to strip councils of their power over water following Havelock North's 2016 gastro crisis which was a wake up call for the country.  

Speaking to Water New Zealand's conference today, the Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, gave her strongest hint yet of change. 

Havelock North's gastro outbreak prompted a review of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater nationwide.

The estimated cost of ensuring drinking water is safe is $500 million, and to fix water infrastructure, at least $2 billion. 

"The Government doesn't have a bottomless pit of money to throw at this," Ms Mahuta said.

But water won't be privatised. Instead, services are likely to be moved into a national water regulator and responsibility for water service stripped from the 67 councils and handed to a small number of entities.

Water NZ chief executive John Pfahlert said that would mean "you get better quality water and it doesn't cost as much to provide". 

But change for the water industry is unlikely to be without controversy.

Any change is likely to see authority over water taken away from local councils, and Local Government New Zealand will not be happy about that.

"We would have issues if it was compulsory because we believe bigger is not always better. New Zealand is incredibly diverse from the Far North to the Deep South," said Stuart Crosbie of Local Government NZ. 

Twenty per cent of drinking water is unsafe - so a national agency is likely to mean more chlorination.

"It's there for a good public health reason. So it'll take time for the communities like Christchurch and Geraldine and other parts of New Zealand which have traditionally not had treated water, to get their head around that," Mr Pfahlert said.

Back in Hawke's Bay, the health board is studying the long-term impacts of the campylobacter outbreak.

John Buckley's family believe he could be the fifth victim of Havelock North's gastro outbreak.

The 78-year-old died three weeks ago of a stroke, but prior to the crisis, they say he'd been healthy.

"He's spent a lot of time in hospital. He's had a lot of unexpected surgeries and bleeds and heart problems, kidney problems, all due to the campylobacter," said Kat Sheridan, Mr Buckley's daughter.

Ms Sheridan says the family wishes, "you can turn your tap on again and trustfully drink the water. Surely that's all we want".

Before any changes can happen Cabinet will need to approve the recommendations made in the review of water management. 

It comes after Havelock North's gastro crisis was a wake-up call for New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

Massey University's Vice Chancellor faces reprimand from colleagues over handling of Don Brash debate debacle

Massey University’s Vice Chancellor is facing reprimand from her colleagues over her handling of the Don Brash debate debacle.

At the October meeting of the Massey University Academic Board, two motions to censure Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas will be debated, after she banned Don Brash from speaking on campus.

They relate to her decision to cancel the Don Brash event, and for the process of decision making revealed in today’s Official Information Act (OIA) release.

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas and Don Brash Source: rnz.co.nz

"I think it’s safe to say there's a proportion of staff who aren't happy with how things have proceeded," Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, Chris Gallivan told Newstalk ZB.

If the motions are passed, they won’t have much more effect than to register staff's disapproval of the way Prof Thomas handled the affair.

"The University Council is the Vice Chancellor's boss. It will be for the University Council to deal with this as they so wish, it’s not up to the Academic Board," Prof Gallivan says.

The University Council has been approached for comment by 1 NEWS.

But the former National Party leader is calling on the university's Vice Chancellor to resign. Source: 1 NEWS


Versions of synthetic cannabis in New Zealand up to 10 times stronger than strain that saw US 'zombie outbreak'

Experts are warning there are deadlier versions of synthetic cannabis available in New Zealand which are much more potent than the one which caused the so-called zombie outbreaks in the US.

The Government's been told two deadly types of synthetic cannabis are so potent they should be classified as class A drugs.

One of these drugs has been linked to a well-known case that rocked the United States in 2016.

"The concentrations we're seeing in New Zealand are much more potent than what we saw in the Zombie outbreak in New York," Health Minister David Clark says.

In some instances, the drugs found here were 10 times stronger.

The news comes after synthetic cannabis was linked to the deaths of at least 45 people since June 2017.

"I don't think we ever anticipated we'd get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm," Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS.

Synthetic cannabis is already illegal - but the maximum punishment for dealers is two years in prison.

Making synthetic cannabis a class A drug would put it alongside methamphetamine, cocaine, magic mushrooms and lsd.

This would mean the police would have more power and the penalties would be significantly tougher for dealers and users.

The Government says it will make a decision on synthetic drugs in the coming weeks.

They're calling for the drug to be classified as Class A – the most harmful and dangerous. Source: 1 NEWS

Wellington bus network changes to be reviewed after council bombarded with complaints

Wellington's new bus network will be independently reviewed after ongoing complaints of buses being late, too full to board or not showing up at all.

The regional council today voted today to have the system reviewed and the results reported back by December.

Since the system was changed in July the council has been bombarded with complaints.

Councillors have also asked officers to change a route so that it began and ended in Kilbirnie, as it previously did, and for feedback on whether some other routes can be changed.

Regional council chief executive Greg Campbell said he took full responsibility for fixing the network's problems.

He said the review needed to be done quickly.

"Any commuter that is left stranded, or a bus that is late, that is of extreme concern. We have to get a clear view of what is happening. What an independent review can really do - particularly for management and council - is give a view of what has happened and articulate that well."

At the beginning of the meeting several Wellington residents addressed the council to let it know they were still unhappy with the new bus routes.

A Wellington principal said the recent re-jig of the routes was making his students late for class and putting them in danger.

St Patrick's College, Kilbirnie's rector Neal Swindells told this morning's meeting about 100-150 boys were using the new service.

"Currently our two 753 buses from the station in the afternoon are significantly overloaded and are unsafe. On Monday this week, they were both loaded to the gunnels and there were 30-odd students who couldn't get on. So what they do is they cross the road to catch the new 24 bus, which by the time it leaves St Pat's now is also overfull."


Commuters at a bus stop in Newtown. Source: rnz.co.nz