Severe asphyxia due to substandard care during labour

University dissertation from Stockholm : Karolinska Institutet, Department of Clinical Science and Education, Södersjukhuset

Abstract: Aim The objective of the thesis was to describe the most common causes of substandard care during labour contributing to severe asphyxia or neonatal death, to study risk factors related to asphyxia associated with substandard care and to explore the occurrence of substandard care during labour. Background There are about 100 000 infants born every year in Sweden. Most infants are born healthy after uncomplicated deliveries. However, 20-50 claims for financial compensation are made annually to the Patients Advisory Committee (PA C) on suspicion that substandard care during labour has contributed to severe asphyxia causing cerebral palsy or death. Even if this group of patients is notably small, asphyxia causes life-long impairment and immeasurable suffering to the patients and their families. In addition, the insurance costs are substantial and amount to 25% of all costs related to substandard care in Sweden. With the exception of this group of patients, and claims to the Health Services Disciplinary Board, the frequency of substandard care in relation to childbirth is fairly unknown. Material and methods Inclusion criteria were pregnancies with a gestational length ? 33 weeks, a spontaneous or induced start of labour, a normal CTG at admission for labour, and Apgar score < 7 at 5 minutes of age (Papers I-IV). 472 case records of deliveries from 1990-2005, filed at the PAC were scrutinised. In Paper I and II the deliveries and acts of neonatal resuscitation procedures are described. In Paper III, maternal characteristics, factors related to care and infant characteristics for patients receiving lifelong financial compensation from PAC are compared with all infants with full Apgar score at 5 minutes of age born after a vaginal start during the same time period in Sweden (n=1.141 059). In Paper IV deliveries and risk factors from 313 infants with Apgar score < 7at 5 minutes of age, born in the Stockholm County are compared with 313 infants with full Apgar score at five minutes of age, matched for year of birth. Results One-hundred and seventy-seven infants were considered to have been severely asphyxiated due to substandard care during labour (Paper I-III). The most common occurrences of malpractice in conjunction with labour were neglecting to supervise fetal well-being (98%), neglecting signs of fetal asphyxia (71%), including incautious use of oxytocin (71%) and choosing a non-optimal mode of delivery (52%) (Paper I). Resuscitation of the 177 severely asphyxiated infants was unsatisfactory in 47%. The most important flaw was the defective compliance with the guidelines concerning ventilation and prompt paging for skilled personnel in cases of imminent asphyxia (Paper II). Risk factors associated with asphyxia included maternal age ? 30 years, short maternal stature (< 159 cm), previous caesarean delivery, insulin-dependent diabetes, induced deliveries and night deliveries, where the increases in risk were doubled to a four-fold. In addition, dystocia of labour was associated with a five-fold increase in risk, which was further increased if epidural anaesthesia or opioids were used. Small- and large-for-gestational age infants, post-term (> 42 weeks) births, twins and breech deliveries had a three to eight-fold increase in risk of asphyxia when there was substandard care during labour (Paper III). Two thirds of infants born in the Stockholm region 2004-2006, with Apgar score < 7 at 5 minutes but also one third of the healthy controls were subjected to some kind of substandard care during labour (Paper IV). The main causes of substandard care during labour were related to misinterpretation of CTG, not acting timely on abnormal CTG, and incautious use of oxytocin. The risk of asphyxia increased with duration of abnormal CTG and was increased fifteen-fold when this was abnormal for ? 90 minutes. Oxytocin was provided without sign of inertia in 20% of cases and controls and the risk of asphyxia was increased more than fivefold in cases of tachysystole. Infants born after a spontaneous vaginal delivery with abnormal CTG for more than 45 minutes had a more than sevenfold risk of low Apgar score. In instrumental deliveries that were considered complex, there was a more than seventeen-fold risk of an Apgar score < 7 at 5 minutes of age. Assuming that substandard care is causative for low Apgar score, we estimate that 42% of the cases could be prevented by avoiding substandard care (Paper IV). Conclusion It is possible to improve patient safety during labour by applying educational efforts on fetal surveillance and increasing awareness of risk factors associated with asphyxia. The main causes of substandard care during labour are related to misinterpretation of CTG, not acting timely on abnormal CTG, misinterpretation of guidelines and misuse of oxytocin. Low Apgar score at 5 minutes of age can substantially, be prevented by avoiding substandard care.

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