If you have been diagnosed with an ‘occult tear’ weeks or months after giving birth, what options are available to you? Is an occult tear an unfortunate but unavoidable risk of childbirth, or is medical negligence to blame?
What is an occult tear?
The majority of women who give birth naturally will sustain some kind of tear to their perineum. The severity will differ greatly from patient to patient, and thankfully just 9% will suffer the most severe type of tears. These are called third and fourth degree tears.
Perineal injuries should be diagnosed shortly after the birth during a routine examination. This must take place before a woman is discharged from hospital. This examination should enable an injury to be detected, the extent of the tear determined, and the appropriate repair carried out.
Nevertheless, there are times when an examination is performed but a serious tear goes unnoticed. It is only some weeks (or sometimes even months or years) after the delivery that a woman seeks help for her symptoms, after which an ultrasound detects a tear to the anal sphincters.
Anal sphincter injuries that were not identified clinically at the time of delivery were previously known as “occult tears”.
Do occult tears amount to medical negligence?
Previously, medical professionals considered occult tears to be an unfortunate but unavoidable risk of vaginal deliveries.
However, this theory has been discounted in a book written by obstetric specialists Sultan et al. They say that it has subsequently been shown in a study that these injuries are not occult. Rather, they can be identified by a proper rectal examination immediately after delivery and before suturing.
This means that the past view of occult tears has been overturned. All injuries to the perineum and anal sphincters can be diagnosed, just as long as a thorough examination is performed by a competent medical practitioner. This may either be a midwife or a doctor.
Claiming for missed tears
Therefore if you have been diagnosed with a severe tear sometime after having given birth, it is very likely you have been the victim of medical negligence. This is because any reasonably competent medical professional should be able to recognise a tear during an examination. A failure to do so will amount to a substandard level of care. If this causes a patient unnecessary pain and suffering, as an unrepaired tear will do, there will be grounds for a compensation claim.
To claim compensation for a missed perineal tear, contact us today.
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