Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

Leading obstetrician hopes to reassure public after coverage of Cullan Chisholm case

Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie says she wants to reassure the public about how the system handles poor outcomes with patients, following CBC's coverage of the $6 million birth injury settlement for Cullan Chisholm.

Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie says hospitals work to review difficult births and improve the success of deliveries

Medical experts say Cullan Chisholm suffered brain damage during a protracted labour and again during delivery. (Jack Julian/CBC)

A leading obstetrician in Nova Scotia wants to reassure the public about the way hospitals review difficult births to try to improve the success of deliveries.  

Robyn MacQuarrie is reacting to CBC News coverage of the $6 million birth injury settlement for Cullan Chisholm.

"Birth is something that impacts the entire community, so people need to feel that there's a safe place to deliver a baby," said MacQuarrie, the northern zone chief of maternal and child health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Chisholm, now 7, suffered severe brain injuries during labour and delivery at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S.

Reassuring public

The settlement included no admission of blame by the obstetrician in charge, two nurses who were attending or the hospital.

MacQuarrie said she wants to reassure the public about how the system handles poor outcomes with patients.

"It gave me pause because I was concerned that the women of the province would think that we don't give thoughtful consideration to any bad outcome, and that we don't try to learn from those outcomes in order to improve the care that we deliver," she said.

Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie is the northern zone chief of maternal and child health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The health authority refused to comment on the settlement for privacy reasons, including whether any policy changes or training arose from Chisholm's case.

MacQuarrie says she only knows about Chisholm through news stories. "I literally know nothing about the specifics of the case," she said.

Entire birth team would meet for review

While she can't comment on any particular example, MacQuarrie says whenever a newborn requires immediate transfer to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, the entire birth team would meet for a review.

Chisholm's lawsuit alleged that nurses and an obstetrician missed signs from a fetal heart monitor that he was oxygen-deprived during labour.

MacQuarrie says that paper tracings of fetal heartbeats would be reviewed if it was believed something was missed.

Additional training for hospital staff could follow.

"We would identify learning goals from that, and then we check back in our quarterly meetings to make sure those goals are being pursued and that something is being done if learning is identified as something that's needed," she said.

Sharing lessons learned

MacQuarrie believes the move to amalgamate to a single provincial health authority has helped standardize quality reviews. It allows lessons to be shared more widely within the health-care system.

But she hopes these processes may provide some measure of comfort to affected families.

"I can't imagine the emotional challenge of having a bad outcome. And I think the only thing that would, not soften that, but make it a little bit, hopefully, easier to live with is knowing that something is being done so the same outcome doesn't happen again," she said.

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About the Author

Jack Julian


Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian