A gynaecologist who was responsible for an unborn baby being decapitated during a delivery in 2014 can return to work, the UK’s Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) has decided.
Warning: This story contains graphic details which may distress some readers
Dr Vaishnavy Vilvanathan Laxman was a consultant gynaecologist at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, Scotland, when she was tasked with delivering a baby at just 25 weeks’ gestation.
The baby was in the breech position — where its feet were positioned to be delivered first.
The MPTS ruled on Tuesday Dr Vilvanathan Laxman’s decision to perform a vaginal delivery instead of a caesarean section was wrong.
A caesarean would have been a safer mode of delivery because the baby was premature and in a breech position, and because the cervix was only dilated by more than 4 centimetres.
The MPTS found Dr Vilvanathan Laxman’s actions resulted in the baby’s decapitation inside the mother’s womb.
She was suspended by NHS Tayside in the wake of the incident in March 2014, but the tribunal on Tuesday decided she could return to work.
In their findings, the MPTS said Dr Vilvanathan Laxman’s actions did not amount to misconduct under the UK’s medical act and decided not to issue her with a warning.
It said her actions were “negligent and fell below the standards ordinarily to be expected”, but did not amount to “serious” misconduct.
Although it found the doctor’s decision to proceed with a vaginal delivery contributed to the baby’s decapitation, that outcome was not reasonably foreseeable to anyone in theatre at the time.
Throughout the four-week hearing, the tribunal heard how Dr Vilvanathan Laxman was nearing the end of a 24-hour split shift at the hospital’s maternity unit when she was called to assist a 30-year-old pregnant woman.
The MPTS said it was satisfied Dr Vilvanathan Laxman’s wrong decision was an “isolated, single incident in an otherwise-unblemished career” and would not present a risk to patients.
“The tribunal is satisfied that the events in question are likely to have had a profound impact on Dr Vilvanathan Laxman, as they surely will have for all others who were present in theatre that day, and that on the evidence, Dr Vilvanathan Laxman has learnt from this unfortunate episode and that the likelihood of it being repeated is extremely remote,” the MPTS found.
“The tribunal wished to record that nothing in this determination should detract from the fact that on March 16, 2014, Dr Vilvanathan Laxman made a significant error of judgement which had serious consequences and a profound impact upon [the patient] and for which Dr Vilvanathan Laxman bears a heavy responsibility.”
Dr Vilvanathan Laxman was qualified in 1999 in India and moved to the UK in 2004.
She became a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 2006, and was appointed as a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology in 2012.