health & science

Hospital questions child on pregnancy status

The mother of an 11-year-old girl questioned about her pregnancy status when having an x-ray of her arm says hospitals need better processes when dealing with children.

Waikato mother Brooke Hughes spoke to Newsroom after her daughter Maea was asked about being pregnant when she presented at Waikato Hospital with a sore arm on July 21.

“She’d fallen off her bike and landed on her arm and it was really sore,” Hughes said.

“We went up to [Waikato Hospital] ED to find out what was wrong.”

The pair were then directed to have an x-ray after being seen by a doctor.

“They started off with: ‘Now, please don’t be offended by what I’m about to ask’, [then continued], ‘Is there a possibility that you might be pregnant?’

Hughes, who was in the room, was shocked.

“I wasn’t standing right next to her because they’d already sat her down where she was going to get her x-ray done on her arm, so they directed the question directly at her.

“I instantly replied no.”

Maea didn’t really know what to say, Hughes said.

“She was shocked. She looked at me like: Why are they asking me this question?’

“She said she felt really yucky about it and uncomfortable,” Hughes said.

“I think the general population understands there’s risks with x-rays. That’s not what my concern was - it was about the process about how they asked my daughter."

Immediately after the x-ray, Hughes asked the head ED nurse whether what happened was standard practice. The nurse confirmed it was, and explained it was because of the harm x-rays posed to unborn children. DHB policy dictated that all women aged 10 to 55 were asked.

“It was just the way they asked the question as well. Why does it have to be verbalised, why was it so callous, and not discrete? Why can it not just be a tickbox where it’s not going to affect the child?

“I think the general population understands there’s risks with x-rays. That’s not what my concern was - it was about the process about how they asked my daughter."

Hughes also followed up with a formal complaint to Waikato District Health Board (DHB). Its response has been completely unsatisfactory, she said. 

A letter from Sue McColl, district services manager of radiology, explained the policy for checking the pregnancy status of “female patients of a child-bearing potential (10 to 55 years old) undergoing diagnostic imaging using radiation”. It also said:

“I apologise for this causing offence and the perceived disrespect to yourself and your whānau. I hope you now have an understanding about why the question was asked.”

Hughes: “That was like rubbing salt in a wound. I understand the risks - I’m not stupid”.

“Even just in that letter -‘the perceived disrespect’ - that was their wording. It wasn’t perceived, it was real and it was disrespectful. They weren’t addressing it or taking it seriously at all.”

A reply from the DHB to questions from Newsroom provided a similar explanation for why Maea was asked directly about possibly being pregnant.

“The radiology department at Waikato Hospital follows a guideline where every female patient of childbearing potential (10 – 55 years), who is undergoing a diagnostic procedure using ionising radiation, is required to have their pregnancy status checked,” spokeswoman Lydia Aydon said.

“Normal practice is that the female will be asked if there is any chance of pregnancy prior to the x-ray examination and the response will be documented. The radiographer does not deviate from this process based on appearance of the individual, race, age, or culture.”

Newsroom also asked what would happen if a child like Maea confirmed they were pregnant prior to an x-ray. The legal age of sexual consent is 16.

“The response would depend on the individual situation and patient and would involve a paediatrician,” Aydon said.

Meanwhile, Maea had her second x-ray at Waikato Hospital for her greenstick fracture on Tuesday.

“It was a student - there were no questions asked,” Hughes said.

“I was there, because if they were going to ask the question again, I was going to interject."

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