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 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2015
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Hospital Investigations

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 898 No. 4

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Estimates for Public Services 2015

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I move the following Supplementary Estimate:

Vote 35 – Army Pensions (Supplementary)

That a supplementary sum not exceeding €6,500,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2015, for retired pay, pensions, compensation, allowances and gratuities payable under sundry statutes to or in respect of members of the Defence Forces and certain other Military Organisations, etc., and for sundry contributions and expenses in connection therewith; for certain extra statutory children's allowances and other payments and for sundry grants.

  Vote put and agreed to.

Topical Issue Debate

Hospital Investigations

Acting Chairman (Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy): Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Will Members, please, clear the Chamber to allow for Deputy Micheál Martin’s Topical Issue matter to be taken?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Thank you, Acting Chairman. I thank the Minister for Health for attending the Chamber. Last week-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy): Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy I ask Deputies who are not here for the Topical Issue debate to leave the Chamber and not to talk.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin If Members would not mind, as this is a serious and sensitive issue. There are people listening in the Visitors Gallery and a little decorum might be called for.

Last Tuesday evening, I had a meeting with a couple, Catherina and Stephen McGarry, from Sallynoggin, Dublin. On November 27 1991, 24 years ago, their daughter Jennifer Anna was born in the Coombe hospital. It was a forceps delivery and it went badly wrong. Jennifer Anna’s spine was badly damaged and just over ten weeks later, on St. Valentine’s Day, 1992, she died in her mother’s arms. Incredibly, her death was not reported to the coroner. In addition to this, Jennifer Anna’s brain and spine were removed from her body without the consent of her parents. Catherina and Stephen only learned of this in 2012, 20 years later. In 2009, the national audit of retained organs and post mortem practices occurred but they were not informed of it.

The Coombe hospital has now apologised in a somewhat qualified way to the couple over Jennifer Anna’s death. The hospital now accepts that Catherina should have had a caesarean section at an earlier stage. If that had happened, it is likely that Jennifer Anna would have been born without injury. It is clear too that she would be alive today. The qualified apology by the Coombe, while welcome, does not go far enough by any objective yardstick or for Catherina and Stephen McGarry. They want justice and accountability and are anxious that their daughter’s case be independently inquired into. They would also like a meeting with the Minister for Health to put their case.

They have written to the Minister on several occasions seeking a meeting but he has always refused their request. In a letter on 2 November last, they were told in a letter from the Minister, “there will be no further reply to correspondence on this matter.” I have read the hospital's report. I urge the Minister to reconsider his previous refusal to meet Catherina and Stephen McGarry and to meet with them at his earliest convenience. I also urge him to support their call for an independent inquiry and take steps to ensure such an inquiry takes place.

After the death of Jennifer Anna, Catherina and Stephen tried many more times to have children but had to endure seven miscarriages. They also tried to adopt but were rejected on grounds of age. This entire event has had an enormous and profoundly damaging impact on their lives. Catherina makes the valid point that if she did something wrong, she would have to be held accountable for it.

I understand the registrar who delivered the child using a forceps subsequently moved to the United Kingdom and that later, he resigned from a position in a hospital after concerns were raised about his treatment of patients. There are issues there to be inquired into. At the very least, an independent investigation is warranted in this case and that those involved and responsible be held to account.

At the very least, will the Minister meet with the couple to hear their case? It is evident that without the work Stephen and Catherina did themselves, we would not even have the report or the review that the Coombe hospital belatedly published in the past year. It is their work and persistence that has resulted in this matter being raised in the Dáil today and in the review being carried out by the hospital.

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy for raising this case and for affording me the opportunity to offer my sincerest condolences to the family involved. The Deputy will appreciate that I have a no role in individual cases and do not have access to individual patient files or personal information.

I am informed that the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Coombe hospital have been in contact with this family on an ongoing basis for several years and have apologised to them for the death of their child 23 years ago. In 2012, the Coombe hospital initiated a systems review to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of an infant in 1992. This review, undertaken in line with the HSE's incident management policy and guidelines, concluded that there were deficiencies in care which contributed to the child’s death. It is important we learn from these adverse incidents as the single most important obligation for any health service is patient safety and improving the quality of care. That is why the Government is committed to improving the quality and safety of maternity services. A national women’s and infant health programme will be established by the HSE to drive improvement and standardise care across all 19 maternity units. The maternity strategy under development will provide the policy to direct and underpin the work of the programme.

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