Increase in maternal deaths at Auckland Hospital prompts investigation

The Auckland District Health Board is launching an investigation after a rise in maternity-related deaths this year at Auckland Hospital.


According to Dr Rob Sherwin, the director of womens’ health at the DHB, there have been three maternal deaths at Auckland Hospital since the start of Alert Level 3 on March 23.

Dr Sherwin says there was also one maternal death earlier this year (before the Level 3 or Level 4 restrictions were in place) where the mother died at home “after having been in our care”.

“This is a higher number of maternal deaths than in previous years and we are taking this very seriously,” he said in a statement released to 1 NEWS.

Approximately 6500 babies are born at Auckland Hospital each year. In 2018, it had one maternal death while in 2017 and 2019 there were zero deaths.

A man whose wife died during lockdown in April told NZME he wasn't allowed to visit her when she miscarried at 21 weeks.

She underwent a C-section the morning after being rushed to hospital on April 23 and he was not phoned until later to be informed she was in ICU with a blood infection.

"My wife would lose her unborn baby and grieve alone. She would then face surgery without family support. What happened to my family should never happen in New Zealand again," the man told NZME.

The woman's husband was allowed to enter the ICU to be with her late on on April 25, but she died the following morning after efforts to save her.

The man spoke of his trauma, saying he wanted the Government to take stock of Covid-19 emergency procedures.

"We want to ensure a thorough investigation takes place and we urge the Government to review Covid-19 emergency procedures, in case New Zealand is forced to one day return to the harsh and unfair rules of alert levels 3 and 4.

Doctor Sherwin said the Alert Level 4 lockdown period was an “unprecedented time and we acknowledge that this will have impacted on the experience for the husband as a support person for his wife”.

“We are in touch with the husband directly and are offering support.”

Dr Sherwin said the DHB is “fully reviewing the care of the mothers with a panel that includes external reviewers”.

“The review process aims to place the patient and/or whānau members at the centre to help them and us understand what happened, and to ensure that as an organisation we have the correct systems and processes in place to support our skilled staff to do their best work for our patients and families.

“We will be meeting with all the families to discuss the findings of the reviews once complete and answer any questions they may have,” Dr Sherwin said.

“This is a higher number of maternal deaths than in previous years and we are taking this very seriously.”

A spokesperson for ADHB said in a statement that initial reviews indicated that staff numbers in the maternity ward were adequate in each of the four cases where the mothers died in hospital.

They had also found that each mother received one-on-one care.

“It is too early to understand if any of the DHB’s systems or processes impacted on the outcomes for the mothers, or whether there was a link between the factors which led to the deaths,” the spokesperson said.