China Focus: Premature baby disposed of as stillbirth in south China arouses concerns over hospital management

Updated: 2011-11-04 23:57:00

(Xinhua)

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GUANGZHOU, November 4 (Xinhua) -- A hospital in south China's Guangdong province that mistakenly diagnosed a premature baby as a stillbirth has stoked public anger and stirred a new round of debate regarding the country's hospital management.

Liu Dongmei, a 22-year-old mother, gave birth to a baby in the 32nd week of her pregnancy with the help of two nurses on October 26 at the Nanhai Red Cross Hospital in the city of Foshan. Liu was informed that she had given birth to a stillborn baby girl. The baby was then wrapped in a plastic bag and discarded in a restroom by the nurses until half an hour later, when Liu's family rushed to the hospital and asked about the baby.

"The infant was still alive and it was a boy," said Wang Heping, Liu's sister-in-law.

Huang Lichuan, director of the hospital's department of obstetrics and gynecology, confessed that the nurses had mistakenly diagnosed the stillbirth due to a "shortage of experience."

Wang Haizhang, Liu's husband, said that they called the doctor on duty many times at that night, but that no one came to help them.

Hospital authorities explained that the doctor on duty was treating a patient who was suffering from a massive hemorrhage at the time.

Chen Anwei, chief physician at the Obstetric Critical Care Center of Guangzhou, said that labor shortages are common in China's hospitals, but that the "reasonable deployment of staff" is the key to solving the problem.

Local health authorities have launched an investigation into the incident. Those who were responsible for the accident failed to follow proper procedure during the birth, as a doctor is supposed to be present at that time, said Pan Yongtong, standing deputy director of the health department of the Nanhai district, where the hospital is located.

The fact that the nurses did not report the supposed stillbirth to the doctor on duty before disposing of the baby is also part of the problem, Pan said.

The hospital's obstetrical director, the doctor on duty at the time of the incident and the nurses have been suspended from duty and are under investigation, Pan said.

Zhang Shuitang, chief physician at a local neonatal nursing and emergency center, said infants may only be declared dead if they do not breathe or exhibit heart palpitations after ten minutes of resuscitation following birth, citing the Chinese Medical Association.

The incident has highlighted the importance of improving medical ethics in China's hospitals, said Guo Weiqing, a professor at the School of Government under Guangdong's Sun Yat-sen University.