Freak patient mix-up leaves foreigner with unwanted abortion at Prague hospital

A pregnant woman who came to Bulovka Hospital for a routine check-up had her baby aborted when no doctors realized they were treating the wrong patient.

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 29.03.2024 10:17:00 (updated on 29.03.2024) Reading time: 2 minutes

In a tragic incident earlier this week, a mix-up of two foreign patients at Bulovka University Hospital in Prague 8 led to a pregnant woman getting an abortion without her knowledge or wish. A health expert says that, aside from gross staff negligence, a language barrier contributed to the shock event.

Confusing two patients

The fatal error occurred on March 25. A healthy woman came to Bulovka University Hospital for a routine check-up on the baby she had been carrying. However, she was mistaken – by nurses, doctors, the gynecologist, and anaesthesiologist – as being another patient who was due for a curettage (a type of uterus surgery, also a method of abortion).

The unknowing pregnant patient was placed under general anesthetic and received an unexpected abortion.

"The Ministry of Health expresses its deep regret to the patient and the entire family," said ministry spokesman Ondřej Jakob in a press release Thursday. "There was an inexcusable human error, and those responsible have been placed off duty.”

Language barrier the likely the issue

Speaking to Czech media outlet Seznam Zprávy, gynecologist and vice-chairman of the Czech Medical Chamber Jan Přáda said that the mix-up wasn’t averted due to both patients being foreign and likely unable to speak or understand Czech. “A Czech-speaking patient would probably actively resist the fact that she is going to undergo a procedure that she does not understand,” he commented.

Přáda emphasized that before appointments and operations, doctors always confirm a patient's name, check their hospital bracelet and number, and consult them multiple times on what will happen. The patients fully understanding Czech – or the doctors speaking English – may have prevented this. It is currently unknown which language the medical professionals had spoken in when communicating with the affected patients.

“The goal must be to do a root analysis, identify the causes, and set a process so that this never happens again,” chairman of the Czech Society for Quality in Healthcare David Marx told Seznam Zprávy.

Internal and legal action pending

"Bulovka University Hospital has apologized to the family and is ready to compensate the patient appropriately," the hospital announced. The police will also initiate criminal proceedings and take appropriate action against those involved.

According to Bulovka's press spokesperson Eva Stolejda Libigerová, the incident occurred due to serious rule violations, non-compliance with internal regulations, and negligence by several involved healthcare staff, all of whom did not realize they were operating on the wrong person.

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