A MIDWIFE has been found guilty of deliberately drugging 15 pregnant women in an apparent bid to make her work easier.
Kirsteen Stewart, from Newmachar, Aberdeen, administered expectant mothers with a labour-inducing drug which resulted in some babies’ heartbeats dropping as low as 50bpm.
A nursing watchdog said the only plausible explanation was a desire to speed up labour in order to “serve the midwife’s own interests”.
Thirteen of the mothers had to undergo an emergency caesarean section after Ms Stewart gave them Syntocinon, which causes the muscles in the uterus to contract.
No babies were killed by her actions, but two had to be resuscitated at birth and one had to spend time in a neonatal unit.
And now the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) are set to remove Ms Stewart from the register – meaning she will never be able to enter the profession again.
Police investigated Ms Stewart in 2010 but no criminal proceedings were brought. Today (Thu) the Crown Office said they reserved the right to reopen the investigation if further evidence became available.
NMC case presenter Michael Collis told today’s hearing: “Thirteen of the 15 mothers underwent caesarean sections as a result of the…registrant’s actions.
“The only logical explanation that has been put forward as to why the registrant might have have behaved in this way…is a desire to speed up the women’s time in labour in order to serve the registrant’s own interests.
“This is, of course, an explanation that has already been accepted by this panel as a plausible explanation.”
He added: “It is submitted by the NMC that acting in such a manner, for one’s own purpose…undoubtedly represents a serious departure from the acceptable standards of a registered midwife.
“By behaving in such a way, and apparently prioritising her own interests over the interests of her patients and their unborn children, the registrant has breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession [which] has undoubtedly been brought into disrepute by the registrant’s conduct.”
The panel found Ms Stewart guilty of administering a “bolus” – intravenous – dose of the drug to 15 of the 20 mothers in question.
In one instance, two different mothers were given the drug on the same day – 23 November 2009 – resulting in both of their fetuses experiencing a reduced heart rate.
One woman, referred to in documents as Mother O, had to have a Category 1 caesarean section, where there is an immediate threat to life of the mother or fetus.
All cases took place between 3 November 2007 and 13 March 2010 at the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital where Ms Stewart worked.
The 48-year-old was not present nor represented throughout the hearing, which has lasted several weeks, but claimed during an early investigation the cases were simply “bad luck”.
Dr Jean Turner, a patron at the Scotland Patients Association, said NHS Grampian needed to examine whether they should have spotted Ms Stewart’s actions sooner.
She said: “It does seem to have taken an inordinate length of time to get something done. As a patient you would expect that this wouldn’t happen as there should be communications between clinicians. Whatever system they had in place – it needs to be looked at.”
She added: “As a mother it would worry you sick that a member of the health profession would deliberately go out of their way to harm you.
“It’s a miracle that none of the babies were killed. I believe the other clinicians should be congratulated for being so vigilant and helping these mothers give birth.”
A spokesman for the Crown Office said: “We can confirm that the Procurator Fiscal at Aberdeen received a report concerning a then 45-year old female in connection with alleged incidents occurring between April 2001 and March 2010 at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
“Following an extensive investigation by Grampian Police, and after full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available evidence, independent Crown Counsel instructed that there should be no proceedings at this time.
“The Crown reserve the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available.”
Giving evidence at the hearing last month, a consultant told the panel that she had never seen such drastic and unexplained drops in babies’ heartbeats.
Dr Tara Fairley told how one baby’s heart rate fell in under four minutes from a healthy 110bmp to a critical 66bmp.
This drop is known as bradycardia – a fetal heart rate of fewer than 100 beats per minute which can result in distress, jaundice and even death.
Dr Fairley said an intravenous dose of a labour-inducing drug was the only logical explanation. The drug, Syntocinon, could only be prescribed by a doctor, she added.
She added: “If too much is administered then it would make the uterus contract very firmly, which deprives the baby of oxygen. This means that they may require emergency delivery, and they could suffer from a brain injury, cerebral palsy or even death.”
The NMC admitted it had no direct evidence of Ms Stewart giving Syntocinon to the mothers. It said its case depended on the “remarkable trend of women who experienced problems” following her involvement.
The NMC panel must now decide what sanction to place on Ms Stewart, which can range from a warning to being removed from the register.