This site is intended for UK healthcare professionals
Medscape UK Univadis Logo
Medscape UK Univadis Logo

Inquest: Surgeon Denies Infecting Patients with Herpes

A surgeon has told an inquest into the deaths of two new mothers he did not infect them with herpes. The inquest also revealed that healthcare workers on the scene were not tested to determine if anyone on the medical team that treated the two women was infected.

The coroner for Mid Kent and Medway is investigating the cases of Kimberly Sampson, 29, and Samantha Mulcahy, 32, who died in 2018 after the same obstetrician conducted their Caesarean deliveries. They were treated 7 weeks apart in hospitals run by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust. Both died with herpes shortly after giving birth and their families, who were at the hearing, have been waiting almost 5 years for answers.

The doctor, who cannot legally be named at the inquest in Maidstone, Kent, said he had never had the infection and was never tested for it or was invited to be examined for it. The surgeon, who described himself as a "good doctor", told the hearing his hands were fully scrubbed, double gloved, and he was wearing a mask during procedures.

Doctor Denied Having Infection

During the inquest, Coroner Catherine Wood told the doctor, who was the operating surgeon on both women, of two theories which suggest he may have been "a potential source of infection". The first indicated there could have been a droplet infection at the time of the surgery.

The surgeon replied: "I am wearing the mask and do not have the infection and that is the only answer I can give to you."

The coroner then outlined another theory whereby the infection could have come from a whitlow, which is an infection of the finger is often caused by herpes.

The surgeon replied: "I never had a lesion or broken gloves. If I had broken my gloves I would see, and it would be easy to see it." He also noted that he was sure his gloves didn't break because they were new.

The surgeon said he was contacted by a representative from occupational health in July 2018 and was not told he needed to be screened. He said he was not offered an antibody test – "not at any stage" during their talk – and said he would have been willing to do it at the time.

He insisted his methods for maintaining good hand hygiene standards were up to medical guidelines.

Medical Team Not Tested

Earlier in the inquest, midwife Dominique Bicker, who also worked on the cases of both women, said she was not offered an antibody test by occupational health even though she "absolutely" would have taken one because she had "no reason not to".

Ms Bicker said a report that said she had cold sores in three colds in the 12 years before the deaths as "incorrect". She had never had one until 2019, after the deaths.

Professor Richard Tedder was an external consultant who was contracted through Public Health England who attended a meeting with members of the trust in July 2018.

Prof Tedder said at the inquest: "I think I would want to be quite certain that the team felt that they had been investigated and cleared of any responsibility of causing that and that would be very important infection control action with the trust."

He told the inquest that "from my point of view the two unfortunate cases are unique in my 40-odd years of medical virology" and "it is devastating but it's a very rare phenomenon".

He suggested the inquest would need to look at whether the virus in the women could be linked genetically.

Prof Tedder told the hearing it's not possible to separate the two viruses and say they came from different sources.

Ms Sampson died in May 2018 shortly after giving birth to her second child at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, and Ms Mulcahy died in July 2018 at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, both in Kent. She died at the end of the month in hospital in London.