A dead baby's body was incorrectly stored by hospital staff so that when the premature infant was handed to her grieving mother the next day, she was in an accelerated state of decomposition.
The baby's skin was apparently stuck to a blanket she was wrapped in, claims a Waikato Hospital midwife, who says the baby's death in July last year has left her battling post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD].
The senior midwife, who does not want to be named, is speaking out after the Herald revealed a baby died at Waikato Hospital in September last year - not December as previously stated - when the mother's elective caesarean was delayed because of an emergency c-section.
The midwife has taken a personal grievance against Waikato District Health Board for not supporting her when she developed PTSD, which she claims is a result of several incidents including the deaths of two premature babies born in the maternity unit.
The grievance includes allegations of bullying, understaffing and highly stressful working conditions within Women's Health. In the incident in July last year, the midwife said the baby girl was born at 27 weeks but died hours later of suspected severe anaemia after delays in detecting a serious condition in utero, despite repeated attempts by the midwife to get treatment.
The midwife said the situation worsened when she was not allowed access to a special "cooling cot" to prevent the baby decomposing at a faster rate.
The cot was located in a different area of the maternity unit and was not allowed to be moved, but requests to transfer the mother of the dead baby to the area so that her baby could be placed in the cot were denied, the midwife said.
"We only had ice to put baby on."
The next morning, the baby's body - with tubes still attached - was given to the mother wrapped in a blanket by Newborn Intensive Care Unit nurses.
The midwife said she had to inform the mother that she could not unwrap the blanket because it was stuck to the baby's skin.
The Herald has chosen not to report other factors of the baby's decomposition, however both women were shocked and distraught at the situation, according to the midwife.
"That [incident] was what tipped me over the edge," the midwife said. "We are pushed into situations all the time to go over and beyond our capabilities and then we just have to pick up and carry on."
In a letter to Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Nigel Murray last November, College of Midwives CEO Karen Guilliland raised concerns over the state of midwifery at Waikato Hospital.
Guilliland said the loss of training accreditation in the obstetrics and gynaecologists department in late 2015, which meant up to 10 doctors left to train at other hospitals, continued to cause significant staffing and service challenges.
"We understand that the DHB is 17 fulltime equivalent midwives short, and that many staff are working extra shifts, and staying on beyond rostered shift hours to make up staffing shortfalls."
The letter said:
• Pregnant women were waiting hours for antenatal appointments.
• There were significant delays for women waiting for inductions because there were not enough midwives in the delivery suite.
• The workload for doctors and midwives in the Women's Assessment Unit was huge.
• The postnatal ward was often solely staffed by nurses because midwives were covering the delivery suite.
"This is directly impacting on the care that women are receiving. We are raising these issues as we are deeply concerned for the service and for the well-being of the women accessing the facility."
This week Women's Health commissioner Tanya Maloney said the department had recruited non-training registrars and was now on track to regain the accreditation by early next year.
Women and Children's Service director Michelle Sutherland said the DHB understood the trauma of someone losing their baby.
She said there were two "cuddle cots" at the hospital with unique cooling systems to help preserve stillborn babies or infants who have died shortly after birth, based in the Women's Assessment Unit and the NICU.
"They allow the baby to remain with the family and support their grieving process following such a distressing event."
She could not comment on the case of the decomposed baby because of privacy reasons.
Sutherland admitted Women's Health had significant vacancies in the past but was fully recruited in midwifery and nursing since June.