British Columbia

Family blames doctor for Victoria baby's stillbirth

The grandmother of a woman whose baby died during birth at Victoria General Hospital is disputing claims a shortage of anesthesiolgists is to blame for the death.

The grandmother of a woman whose baby died during birth at Victoria General Hospital is disputing claims a shortage of anesthesiologists is to blame for the death.

Erna Turrie says she was in the operating room when her granddaughter's baby developed an irregular heartbeat during the birth last week.

Turrie says hours passed while the baby lay lodged in the birth canal.

"Three times they used the suction," she said. "It wouldn't work, so they used the forceps and I said, 'In the meantime, why don't you give her a Caesarean? What are you waiting for?' and the doctor screamed in my face, 'I don't have an anesthesiologist.'"

However, Turrie says she doesn't blame the baby's death on a lack of anesthesiologists.

"It's not the anesthesiologists fault. It's the doctor."

On-call doctor not called in soon enough

Turrie claims four hours elapsed before the doctor decided to call in the on-call anesthesiologist to perform a C-section. She believes the anesthesiologist should have been called in earlier, when her granddaughter first began experiencing problems.

"She could have got an anesthesiologist to do a C-section at 7:30 but she didn't," Turrie said. "She waited and waited and waited.

"The autopsy report came in today. The baby was perfect. There was not a thing wrong with the baby."

Turrie also disputes the Vancouver Island Health Authority's claim the on-call anesthesiologist arrived at the hospital within 10 minutes.

"It took a half an hour for that anesthesiologist to show up — a half an hour, not 10 minutes, half an hour," she said.

"He showed up at 12 o'clock because I stood at the [operating room] doors and he couldn't get into OR doors. He had to [go] in intensive care … way down the other end of the hall. And this guy was frantic. I watched him through the OR doors.

"I watched him go into the room and this guy was running and I mean running, but that was at 12 o'clock and not 11:30 or [11:40]."

Turrie says she has witnessed eight births of family members and has never before witnessed anything like it.

Anesthesiologists blame staffing

Earlier this week, anesthesiologists at the hospital said a shortage of anesthesiologists at the hospital may have been a factor in the baby's death.

"Due to the shortage of anesthesiologists and the lack of timely access to care, that very likely played a factor in that tragic outcome," said Dr. James Helliwell of the B.C. Anesthesiologists Society.

Helliwell said one anesthesiologist is on duty at the hospital at night and he was busy with another patient.

A backup was called in, but the surgery couldn't wait, so the patient was moved to an operating room where the sole on-duty anesthesiologist could try to attend to both operations at once.

"Any delay is ill-advised in this situation," said Dr. Sue Ferreira, head of anesthesiology at the hospital.

"That's why we have been trying to push over and over and over again for the institution of dedicated obstetric anesthesiology coverage in this province."

But officials with the Vancouver Island Health Authority say staffing issues are not to blame in this case. 

However, VIHA said in a release Friday that it would commission an external review.

"The death of an infant is one of the most tragic events that can occur in the health care setting," said Howard Waldner, VIHA’s President and Chief Executive Officer. "In recognition of the serious concerns and issues raised by some physicians around this situation, I have requested that an independent, third party review be conducted."

The hospital has a full-time anesthesiologist on site 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A second anesthesiologist is paid to be on call when required.

There are 40 anesthesiologists in Victoria, 21 of whom are part of the call rotation at Victoria General, officials said Wednesday.

BCMA condemns public statements

Dr. Nasir Jetha, the B.C.Medical Association president, is urging B.C.'s anesthesiologists not to create unfounded fears amongst British Columbians by issuing media statements about patient care during contract negotiations.

Over the last several months, the British Columbia Anesthesiologists' Society has been attempting to negotiate additional funding from the government and has actively campaigned in the media to support its cause, Jetha said.

While the BCMA fully supports the anesthesiologists and the work they do to provide the best patient care, it does not believe statements that tend to undermine confidence and raise public fear should be used to support attempts to negotiate government funding, he said

"[Tuesday's] news story linking a baby's death to the lack of availability of an anesthesiologist only serves to alarm expectant mothers and fathers, Jetha said in statement issued by the BCMA on Wednesday. "Clearly, the death of the baby in Victoria is tragic and should be investigated. But the place to raise this issue should not be the evening news, it should be at the hospital."

B.C. anesthesiologists earn between $100,000 and $400,000 a year but say that's only half of what their counterparts make in Alberta.