Foetus in clinical waste bin

The press is getting exercised about a foetus – described boldly as an unborn baby in some of the more lurid headlines – found in a clinical waste bin.

The foetus was believed to have been between 15 and 20 weeks gestation. An investigation has now been started at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie. NHS Lanarkshire apologised for the distress caused by the incident and said it aimed to treat all families with dignity and respect. Scottish Health Minister Alex Neil, who is the MSP for Airdrie, said something had gone “seriously wrong”.

A spokeswoman for the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society said hospitals should be following guidance issued by the Royal College of Nursing and the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management.

It’s a tough call, wondering how best to manage the foetus in circumstances where getting a clear and final answer from a distressed and distraught Mum may be almost impossible. A private burial or cremation, or a ‘hospital cremation’, are the key options though the latter, even if performed with dignity and respect, is little more than a euphemism for incineration with other clinical wastes.

Whatever happens, placing the foetus into a clinical waste bin (presumably a sack mounted into a sack holder) is wrong. Who saw it? Who then reported it, and how did it get as far as the newspapers? These are matters about which we have no information. It may have been a concerned staff member, a whistleblower, since that seems to be becoming an increasingly popular pastime among NHS staff. Perhaps supply chain problems had resulted in shortage of a more suitable container? But if that resulted in a hospital visitor or patient fining the foetus then clearly that is more than regrettable, it should never have happened.

The key failure was to choose the wrong waste container, in contravention of what should have been a clear and easily understood policy.

Cock-ups happen occasionally. But sometimes the consequences are profound, from even the a seemingly trivial slip. This one will cause distress for many women who have miscarried, at Monklands or elsewhere, now and in the future.


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