THE family of a pregnant woman who died two weeks after discharging herself from hospital five years ago is suing NHS Borders for £300,000.
Lisa O’Neill, 33, was found dead at her home in Springfield Terrace, St Boswells, on August 18, 2006. A post mortem concluded she had died of peritonitis, an inflamation of the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen.
Lawyers acting on behalf of her daughter Caitlin, now 18, and her mother Anne, 59, have brought a claim for negligence against the health authority at the Court of Session in Edinburgh and are seeking financial redress of £200,000 and £100,000 respectively.
Lisa, who had worked at Tesco and the Holland & Barrett health food shop in Galashiels, was admitted to the Borders General Hospital in late July 2006 suffering with nausea and abdominal pain.
Papers submitted to the court claim doctors at the hospital decided not to surgically examine Miss O’Neill, who was 15 weeks pregnant, for fear it could harm her unborn baby – a decision the family is now contesting, claiming such a procedure would have posed only a “small risk” to the unborn boy who died with his mother.
After the funeral at Benrig Cemetery, Anne O’Neill told TheSouthern: “As far as I am concerned she was in great pain. The lassie could hardly walk when I went to pick her up from the hospital. We just cannot understand that she had the pains for so long and nothing was picked up despite Lisa being seen by gynaeocologists and surgeons.
“It is the case that she wanted to go home when she was told they could not find out what was wrong, but they certainly never tried to stop her. I do not think that is right because she was still in pain.”
The court papers lodged in pursuit of the family’s claim allege that a series of tests, conducted during her stay in Ward 16, showed that Miss O’Neill, who had a history of eptopic pregnancy, had an elevated white cell count, an obstruction in her intestine and fluid in her abdomen.
Lawyers claim that one consultant “considered performing” a laparotomy, involving a large incision in the abdomen to allow a surgical examination, but chose not to carry out the procedure “due to risk to her unborn child”.
Apart from being referred to a pain clinic, it is claimed that Miss O’Neill thereafter was not treated or investigated further by the surgical team at the BGH.
The court papers say Miss O’Neill had a “longstanding and severe history of abdominal pain and vomiting” and add: “The small risk of harm to the unborn child should not have influenced the decision...not to perform the laparotomy.”
Shortly after Miss O’Neill’s death, a spokesperson for NHS Borders said: “Irrespective of the findings of the post mortem, there will be a full investigation into this very sad situation.”
This week, when asked to comment on the O’Neill family’s legal action, a health authority spokesperson stated: “This is an ongoing Court of Session action and it would be inappropriate for Borders Health Board to comment on an action which is before the court.”