Midwife told parents she could hear unborn baby's heartbeat - five weeks after it had died

Princess Anne maternity hospital in Southampton

Princess Anne maternity hospital in Southampton

First published in News
Last updated
Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Crime Reporter

A HAMPSHIRE midwife has been suspended after telling parents-to-be that she could hear their unborn baby’s heartbeat when in fact it had died five weeks previously.

Faye Cussell, who was working as a midwife for University Hospital Southampton (UHS) NHS Foundation Trust at the time, told the “white lie” during a routine 12-week scan at the patient’s GP surgery, the Nursing and Midwifery Council heard.

But when the patient had a second scan just 24 hours later at hospital, she was told the devastating news that there was no heartbeat because she had suffered a miscarriage five weeks earlier.

Knowing that her lie was about to be uncovered, Cussell then tried to cover her tracks, by changing the patient’s notes to reflect that she had heard a heartbeat when in fact she had recorded “unable to hear FH today”.

The hearing found Cussell’s actions to be “dishonest”, “foolish and unprofessional” and ordered her suspension for 12 months.

While Cussell, a band 6 midwife based at the Princess Anne Hospital, admitted changing the patient notes retrospectively, she insisted that she did hear a fetal heartbeat on January 12, 2012, and couldn’t explain why she didn’t write that on the patient record.

However, based on the evidence from the handwritten and electronic notes, the panel rejected her claims.

The panel said: “Although this is a case where you have been dishonest, the panel noted that there was no malicious intent as you mistakenly believed that you were helping the patients.”

It added: “However it is a major concern to the panel that you have never been prepared to confront the fact that you did not hear a fetal heartbeat but have persistently claimed that you did, a claim which this panel after very careful consideration has had no doubt in rejecting.”

The hearing was told that Cussell, who was dismissed from UHS after an internal investigation in September 2012, admitted failing to refer another patient to social services, which the panel decided could have had “serious repercussions for the safety of the mother and child”.

She also admitted failing to make the appropriate referral of a third patient who had previously delivered a low-weight baby, which the panel ruled as a failing by Cussell to recognise the potential dangers posed.

At the hearing, Cussell said that at the time of the allegations, she had been going through “difficult times” in her professional and personal life and that the death of a baby a short time after she delivered it had “greatly” affected her. She has also since undergone further training.

The panel concluded: “You told the parents that you had heard a fetal heartbeat even though you knew you had not.

“What you did was foolish and unprofessional but was probably intended to be reassuring and supportive. It was a white lie, but nevertheless professional misconduct.”

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