Hiding the Evidence – Fear of Malpractice suits should not prevent partners video calling into scans.

By Emma Ashworth and Ruth Weston

Image - see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

We firstly want to say that we welcome Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust (LTHT)’s allowing of partners to most antenatal scans.  This has eased the anxiety and suffering of many women and their families.

However, we continue to be deeply concerned about their most recent announcement about recording or videoing in scans. This issue is relevant to LTHT as partners cannot attend all scans, partners isolating cannot attend scans, and of course restrictions may return in the coming weeks and months.  It is also relevant to other trusts who still restrict access to the scanning room.

LTHT has now stated that they have decided that women and people will still not be able to call their partner, or record scans for the following reasons:

  • They accept that patients are legally able to record their consultation with a doctor or other healthcare provider, but that scans are “diagnostic tests” and are therefore treated differently.

This is simply incorrect. There is NO legislation in place that says that women can record their consultations with doctors. The law works the opposite way around. There is legislation which limits where recording can happen, and in all other situations it is legally allowed. This is the same for “diagnostic tests” as any other consultation. It is completely disingenuous for LTHT to attempt to use semantics, twisting words, to attempt to remove a woman’s legal rights, which the Trust does not have the power to do.

  • That having someone record or call during a scan will distract the sonographer.

There is absolutely no evidence that a recording or call during a scan would distract the sonographer MORE than having another person in the room. The fact that the Trust has been unable to demonstrate how this is the case on the numerous occasions that we have asked proves this point. All staff have had to come to terms professionally with the new normal – this is the least physically risky professional accommodation they have to make!

  • Staff safety

This reason is deeply worrying. The Trust have previously advised us that they do not want to have scans recorded because a sonographer, in another Trust, had a recording used against them in a malpractice suit. This was most unfortunate for that Sonographer, but should that prevent good practice and compassion elsewhere?

More importantly, if this is really the case, then the trust is admitting the purpose of its policy is to control and suppress any evidence of malpractice from being scrutinised by the courts, if a poor outcome occurred due to sonographer error. In the era of so many obstetric units being under the spotlight following the unnecessary deaths of mothers and babies, this is shocking. How can the LTHT possibly justify attempting to hide evidence of wrong doing?  And why is the Trust prepared to sacrifice the mental health of parents and their right to family life, in order to protect its staff if they are negligent?

And so:

  • We call upon Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust, and every other UK hospital and trust, to immediately revoke their unsupportable ban on the use of recording or telephoning devices during any scan, appointment or consultation. And recognise the rights of people to record or video call during all of their consultations, diagnostic or otherwise.
  • We urge pregnant women and people who wish to call during a scan, or record a scan, to assert their legal right to do so, and politely remind the sonographer that they have no right to stop them from doing so – and that refusing to undertake their scan would be a breach of their duty of care.
  • We ask sonographers to raise their voices in support of the women and people in their care, to recognise that they are skilled, autonomous professionals who do not need to fear accountability. We ask them to refuse to illegally interrupt parents’ right to a family life and pregnant woman’s right to support during pregnancy and birth. We ask that they refuse to allow the Trust’s rules to interfere with their duty of care as a professional and to consider this to be a breach of their employment rights.

Please share this message widely. We are all in this together and while women and people are supportive and understanding of restrictions which support the health and wellbeing of all, they will not and should not have to tolerate restrictions which are simply unnecessary, and based on fear of accountability. A simple phone call is not too much to ask when we are all giving so much.

Further reading:

Alone with loss – a blog by Ruth Weston on the impact of hearing bad news alone.

For whom this bell tolls – a blog by Ruth Weston on the impact of keeping partners from scans.