Portuguese doctor suspended after baby born without a face

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Stock image of doctor carrying out an ultrasound
A number of cases involving the doctor are being investigated

A Portuguese obstetrician has been suspended after a baby was born without a nose, eyes or part of his skull.

The parents of baby Rodrigo had not been aware of their son’s severe physical abnormalities until he was born earlier this month.

Medical council officials have voted to suspend Dr Artur Carvalho over allegations of negligence.

It has emerged that other complaints, dating back more than a decade, have been made involving other babies.

Reports of those cases, detailed by Portuguese media, have provoked widespread outrage.

Dr Carvalho has not commented publicly on any of the allegations and the BBC has been unable to reach him directly.

What happened to Rodrigo?

Rodrigo was born on 7 October at São Bernardo Hospital in Setúbal, about 40km (23 miles) south of Lisbon.

His parents had been under Dr Carvalho’s care for three ultrasound scans throughout their pregnancy at a private clinic and say he raised no concerns about the foetus’s health.

The mother then reportedly had a fourth, more detailed, 5D ultrasound at a different clinic while six months pregnant. During that scan the possibility of abnormalities was raised, only for Dr Carvalho to allegedly dismiss concerns.

“He explained that sometimes some parts of the face are not visible (on ultrasounds)… when the baby’s face is glued to the belly of the mother,” Rodrigo’s aunt was quoted by AFP as telling a local broadcaster.

After Rodrigo’s birth and his abnormalities became clear, his parents were reportedly told he would only survive for hours.

However, more than two weeks on, the boy is still alive under hospital care.

His parents have reportedly submitted a complaint about Dr Carvalho to the Portuguese Prosecutors’ Office.

What are the other cases?

Amid outrage at baby Rodrigo’s case, other complaints against Dr Carvalho have come to light.

At least six medical complaints are currently open against him, dating back to 2013, according to health officials.

Stock image of baby feet
Image captionA number of other parents have been sharing their own distressing experiences

Other parents have come forward to share their personal stories with Portuguese media of Dr Carvalho’s alleged failure to detect health issues in their own pregnancies.

In one case a baby was born in 2011 with a facial disfigurement, deformed legs and severe brain damage.

The mother, named Laura Afonso, told Publico newspaper that she had submitted a criminal complaint against the doctor only for a prosecutor to dismiss it.

Now aged eight, her child had had multiple surgeries but still could not speak or walk, she said.

Another criminal case where the child died months after their 2007 birth was also reportedly dismissed without reaching trial, Publico reports.

What has reaction been?

The growing scandal has sparked outrage in Portugal. It has raised questions about how the country’s health system works, as well as procedures for complaints.

Miguel Guimarães, president of Portugal’s medical association (Ordem dos Médicos), last week gave a press conference where he said he had directly contacted Dr Carvalho, given the “social alarm” caused by the case.

The doctor, he said, had agreed to stop performing procedures while investigations continued.

The body’s disciplinary council then met earlier this week and unanimously agreed Dr Carvalho should be suspended for six months while investigations continued.

“There is strong evidence” of the doctor’s negligence, which “may lead to a disciplinary sanction,” Alexandre Valentim Lourenco, medical council chief for the southern region told a local broadcaster after the decision was announced.

Mr Lourenco said he hoped the suspension would go some way to help “reassure” pregnant women over the scandal.

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