The investigation and media spotlight over what has been described as a “catastrophic event” at Bacchus Marsh Hospital in Melbourne highlights the complex issues around obstetric malpractice.
The issues of higher than expected neonatal mortality that came light will be discussed at the 8th Annual Obstetric Malpractice Conference by Anne Shortall, a Principal Lawyer (Medical Law) for Slater + Gordon, specializing in the area of personal injuries.
Anne was admitted to practice as a solicitor in 1991 after years of experience as a registered nurse and now has developed one of the largest medical negligence practices in Victoria.
Anne was kind enough to answer some questions in the lead up to the conference.
Informa: You are trained as a Registered Nurse as well as being a Principal Lawyer at Slater and Gordon. What have been some of the highlights of your legal career so far, in particular in your work with obstetric negligence cases?
Anne: I have been involved in a number of cases involving severely disabled children and obtaining compensation for those children is always a highlight. Often the child’s family is struggling both financially and psychologically as there is often limited access to respite care and allied health care.
Knowing that the compensation will result in the child and family being able to access high level care is what keeps me going in a job which can, at times, be very high pressure.
I was instructing solicitor in a case which was heard in the High Court and my client was successful. It wasn’t a medical negligence case but a great experience.
Informa: Your address at the conference will discuss ‘Two Sides to Every Story-What Happened at Bacchus Marsh Hospital?’ Without giving too much away about your upcoming presentation, are you able to explain how the issues of higher than expected neonatal mortality came to light?
Anne: The Perinatal Mortality and Morbidity Committee chaired by Professor Euan Wallace determined that the hospital had a higher rate of neonatal deaths than would be expected. However it’s of great concern that the issues didn’t come to light earlier.
Informa: In your expert opinion, what are some of the steps need to be taken to avoid a case like Bacchus Marsh happening again and to ensure patients are safe in the hospital system?
Anne: I think the Victorian Government needs to implement strong sentinel event reporting and ensure that smaller rural hospitals are paired up closely with tertiary hospitals to ensure that their systems and outcomes are reasonable.
There has been information to suggest that there had been requests by the hospital for updated CTG monitoring equipment and that midwives had raised concerns about what was happening at the hospital. If that’s correct then the government should move away from blaming the hospital and start looking at why these issues occurred and how to prevent such issues occurring again.
Informa: Are there any presentations from the 8th Obstetric Malpractice Conference that you are particularly looking forward to?
Anne: The conference is always extremely interesting and thought provoking so it’s hard to choose.
I am very interested in the presentations by A/Prof Ted Weaver and Dr Nicole Woodrow.
In addition, the presentation by Kevin Connor SC will be very interesting as the UK case that he is speaking about is likely to lead the way for similar cases in Australia.
Anne will be joined by 18+ expert speakers at this year’s 8th Annual Obstetric Malpractice Conference, which will bring together Australia’s top obstetric, midwifery and legal professionals for discussion and assessment of recent cases involving legal, ethical and medical issues surrounding conception, pregnancy, birth and the health of all involved.