A young woman has been awarded almost €140,000 damages for injuries and trauma resulting from a vaginal swab being left inside her and remaining undetected for almost three weeks despite two visits by her to the National Maternity Hospital.

The swab was like a “mini-football”, it was claimed.

Mr Justice Kevin Cross found the trauma that Claire Lalor, a 30-year-old-hairdresser, of Swords, Co Dublin, suffered because of the presence of the swab was “extreme”.

He noted, after the swab was detected, Ms Lalor was later diagnosed with C dificile, a “significant infection”, as a result of unnecessary antibiotic treatment she had been earlier put on at the hospital before the swab was diagnosed.

Liability accepted

The hospital had accepted liability for insertion of the swab and failure to detect it during the two visits to the hospital and the case was before the judge to assess damages.

The case arose after Ms Lalor’s baby was delivered following a difficult birth at the hospital on December 24th 2012.

She was discharged from the hospital on December 27th but went back to the hospital twice, on January 2nd and January 9th, on advice of public health nurses over concerns about pain and a smell from her lower body. On neither occasion was she examined internally at the hospital and instead she was given antibiotics.

When she attended a third time on January 16th 2013, Ms Lalor described the smell as “disgusting” and “horrible” and on that occasion, she was examined internally and the swab was found.

Mr Justice Cross said Ms Lalor was “entirely appropriately extremely distressed” by this and he entirely accepted she was a truthful witness in her evidence.

Some two days after the swab was removed, she was extremely ill and returned a fourth time to the hospital where she was advised by a doctor she was suffering from post-natal depression, the judge said. She was very angry at this because, whatever about her psychological symptoms, she clearly also had severe physical pain and distress from what occurred to her.

She was admitted to the hospital but when she went home, continued to suffer from sweating, chills, fever and diarrhoea and was unable to hold food down.

Unnecessary treatment

She was taken to Beaumont Hospital where she was diagnosed with C dificile as a result of the unnecessary antibiotic treatment she was put on before the swab was diagnosed. As a result of that diagnosis, she became almost obsessive about cleanliness and was extremely fearful her baby would be infected.

The judge accepted evidence Ms Lalor was at no greater risk of future infection with C dificile than anyone else but he accepted, given her past experience, she was clearly more worried than an ordinary individual would be.

Ms Lalor was clearly entitled to be compensated for the very significant physical injuries she suffered as a result of the negligence of the National Maternity Hospital, the pain, smell and other symptoms experienced, the judge said.

The only real dispute concerned the psychological and psychiatric consequences, he said. He accepted evidence, before the birth of her baby, Ms Lalor was vulnerable to psychiatric problems due to a bullying incident at work and other issues and had also had a mild depressive episode during her pregnancy.

High risk

While he fully accepted the circumstances of her baby’s birth were traumatic and, as a result, Ms Lalor would be at high risk of post natal depression, he ruled that what she suffered, and continues to suffer, as a result of the swab matter was not post natal depression but a depression or adjustment disorder caused by the swab events.

Were it not for the admitted negligence of the National Maternity Hospital, he believed she would have recovered from any post birth upset in a short time and would not have had the psychological trauma she did, the judge said.

While the negligence was the trigger for her complaints, her continuing symptoms have some origin in her underlying disposition, he also found.

The judge said he believed Ms Lalor’s prognosis is good but she should heed a doctor’s advice to avail of counselling as he accepted she is still suffering effects of the negligence. He accepted she has a not unreasonable subjective fear and distrust of the medical profession which is easing.

A total award of €140,000 damages was fair and reasonable, he concluded.