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Independent Clinical Review of Maternity Services at Portiuncula University Hospital: Statements (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 8

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly]   In terms of the background to the report, it was commissioned following the reporting of the deaths of six babies referred for therapeutic hypothermia from Portiuncula Hospital in 2014. That cluster of cases, which was high, prompted an internal review. That was completed in December 2014 and led to a further external review because of the concerns raised. This has caused great distress to all of the people involved. The independent review started out reviewing six cases and when the communications started, a further 12 cases were added. In total, 18 cases were reviewed and of those 18 cases, serious errors were identified in ten of them. The report acknowledged that without those errors, there would have been a different outcome.

  I will make some specific points about this and then move into the maternal strategy and general themes that are emerging in respect of maternity care in Ireland. It is upsetting to read the report, although it is set out very clearly. It highlights very basic absences and understaffing of both midwives and consultants.

  It is important to place this report in context. It was examining a period from 2008 to 2014, which was a time of cutbacks and a time when we valued saving the banks far above saving mothers' and babies' lives. That has to be borne in mind all of the time when we look at these reports. In this report, the report into the death of Savita Halappanavar, the Portlaoise hospital report and many other reports, severe cutbacks in staff are identified repeatedly to the detriment of women's lives.

  Not alone was there understaffing but there was also a lack of proper and adequate skills. There was a lack of multidisciplinary training. There were problems with governance. There were problems in simply reading cardiotocographs, CTGs. There was a problem in regard to communications between nursing staff and between nursing staff and consultants. There was a serious problem in regard to talking to the families and communicating with them. The same type of issue emerged in regard to cervical smears and in all of the other inquiries, particularly in respect of Portlaoise hospital.

  I will quote from the report on the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, because it really captures this point. While there have been many reports into Portlaoise hospital, this report was given in February 2014 to the then Minister for Health, Senator Reilly. The overall conclusions stated:

1. Families and patients were treated in a poor and, at times, appalling manner with limited respect, kindness, courtesy and consideration.

2. Information that should have been given to families was withheld for no justifiable reason.

3. Poor outcomes that could likely have been prevented were identified and known by the hospital but not adequately and satisfactorily acted upon [and so on].

At that point in 2014, the report also concluded that "The external support and oversight from [the Health Service Executive] should have been stronger and more proactive, given the issues identified [way back] in 2007." That report was on Portlaoise hospital and dates from 2014. This report on Portiuncula Hospital is from May 2018 and shows the exact same problems were emerging.

  I wish to place in context that I worked in Ballinasloe for many years and that Portiuncula Hospital had a very fine record. It was set up in 1945 and had a wonderful record until what happened. It went under the Western Health Board and subsequently under the group of hospitals known as Saolta. Saolta was put together haphazardly and without proper planning, as has happened with many other organisations. That has also been identified in this report on Portiuncula Hospital. Portiuncula staff felt completely marginalised, although on paper the governance arrangements were in place. Do I have five minutes remaining?

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I will give the Deputy just less than four minutes.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly It is difficult to know because the clock usually goes in reverse. I am not sure where I am now.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I will allow the Deputy go four minutes over at my discretion.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Acting Chairman.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart The Deputy is welcome.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly In regard to this matter, I seek some answers as to whether these 35 recommendations have been implemented. This report was published in May 2018. Where are we with regard to these recommendations? When the Minister spoke in June 2018, all of the recommendations had not been implemented. Second, he pointed out that the maternity strategy was very welcome, and I certainly agree with him. He pointed out that it was unbelievable that we did not have a strategy before now, on which I also agree with him also.

The national maternity strategy was brought into being to cover the period from 2016 to 2026. There are many recommendations in the strategy but I do not know if they have been implemented. For example, I understand there are midwifery vacancies in more than one area. I will not use the few minutes remaining to me to outline this issue but when a strategy is produced, there is a duty on the Government and on the Minister, when he speaks in the Dáil, to clarify precisely what has and has not been implemented and where we are going in regard to it. We must bear in mind that the national maternity strategy arose from the basic problems identified arising from the Portiuncula inquiry and, in terms of my own city, from the death of Savita Halappanavar, where a strong recommendation, among many other recommendations, was to have a maternity strategy. I welcome that and the fact that it will be woman and child-centred. There is a very good opening statement by the chair, whose name I have just forgotten, in which she refers to making the woman the centre of the process, as well as giving choices to women regarding where they give birth. She also refers to not medicalising something that is extremely normal, which is set out in the strategy, that having a baby is normal and that there should be a pathway of choices in that regard. Where are we in that regard? I have read the strategy to try to see where it has been implemented.

This is particularly poignant given that the independent midwife, Philomena Canning, is currently facing death, as she said herself. She is an independent midwife who fought bravely to bring choice to women in terms of where they would give birth. Her indemnity was withdrawn in 2014 by the Health Service Executive. As a midwife she delivered 500 babies. We know that; this is all factual. She had planned to set up a home centre in Ireland, which is what many women, including myself, would love to see, but her indemnity was withdrawn. Unfortunately, we did not have the national maternity strategy at that time, which sets out that aim as one of the ambitions to have in Ireland. That indemnity was subsequently restored to her but it was too late.

I am highlighting her case briefly because the woman is facing death. I do not want to dwell on it except to highlight that she and very many similar independent midwives have struggled to tell us there is a better way to allow a woman give birth than the medicalisation of that whole process. That was one of the key recommendations in the report we are talking about tonight. I refer to the patriarchal, hierarchal nature of the relationship between doctors and nurses in the hospital. Many times the midwives themselves reported that there was a lack of staff during that critical period and no action was taken on it.

I will conclude because I have to. That is not the Acting Chairman's fault but it has been difficult to follow the time in order that I could work my thoughts around what I was saying.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I appreciate that.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The key message is the implementation of the recommendations.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I thank the Deputy and I appreciate her frustration. I had six minutes on the clock in front of me. I gave her-----

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I appreciate that. I find no fault with the Acting Chairman.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I gave the Deputy an additional four minutes.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Acting Chairman.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I welcome the opportunity to contribute. As has been pointed out, Portiuncula Hospital was opened in 1945. We have to be mindful of the parents who, unfortunately, did not have a good experience in the hospital and who lost their babies. We have to remember those tonight while we are having this debate.


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