HSE inquiry into Savita Halappanavar death to proceed

Thursday 22 November 2012 06.11
Savita Halappanavar died on 28 October in University Hospital Galway following a miscarriage
Savita Halappanavar died on 28 October in University Hospital Galway following a miscarriage

Minister for Health James Reilly has indicated that the HSE inquiry into Savita Halappanavar's death is proceeding, despite a decision by her husband not to cooperate with it.

Speaking to reporters in Armagh, Mr Reilly said he will be seeking an interim report before Christmas.

Ms Halappanavar died on 28 October in University Hospital Galway following a miscarriage.

Praveen Halappanavar earlier said he will not meet the chairman of the Health Service Executive inquiry into his wife's death.

In his first television interview in Ireland, on RTÉ's Prime Time, he said the family wants a public inquiry funded by the Government.

Mr Halappanavar said he has no confidence in the HSE to lead the investigation, as he fears there could be some bias if it is carried out by people paid by the executive.

He said he went public with his story because "there was nothing happening for two weeks".

Mr Halappanavar said the entire family is waiting to find out what happened.

"I had to answer the family back home... They couldn't believe it. It was such a simple case."

He said "they should have thought about the bigger life when they couldn't save the baby".

Mr Halappanavar’s solicitor, Gerard O' Donnell, told RTÉ’s Six-One that if the inquiry tries to use the medical records of the late Savita Halappanavar, he will speak to the Data Protection Commissioner and will take advice on whether it is necessary to take legal action in the courts.

The Irish Patients' Association has written to Minister Reilly asking him to stand down the current HSE inquiry into the case.

It wants the independent health watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority, to conduct the investigation.

New inquiry team members

The HSE has announced the three replacement consultants and the Draft Terms of Reference for the investigation into the death of Ms Savita Halappanavar.

Two of the consultants are from Ireland, while the third member works in Leeds in England.

The appointees are:

- Professor James Walker, Professor and Honorary Consultant of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in St James' University Hospital in Leeds

- Dr Brian Marsh, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital

and

- Professor Mary Horgan, Consultant Physician in Cork University Hospital and Professor in the School of Medicine, University College Cork

The draft terms of reference say the investigation will establish the factual circumstances leading up to the incident and identify any key causal factors that may have occurred.

It will cover the period from the patient's admission to University Hospital Galway on 21 October to her death on 28 October.

Praveen Halappanavar's solicitor disappointed by Kenny remarks

Mr Halappanavar's solicitor said that he was surprised and disappointed at the Taoiseach Enda Kenny's remarks in the Dáil today.

Speaking on RTÉ, Mr O'Donnell said that the Taoiseach had, in someway, suggested that Mr Halappanavar's legal representatives were preventing him from meeting the chairman of the HSE team investigating his wife, Savita's death.

"That is suggesting that Mr Halappanavar, and indeed us as his solicitors are doing something wrong, we're not," Mr O'Donnell said.

"We're engaged to advise him, he has always made clear to me as his solicitor from the start that as his wife died under the care of the HSE on the 28 October, he does not want any hand, act or part in dealing with the HSE."

Mr O'Donnell said that his client opposes Ms Halappanavar's hospital records being made available to the HSE appointed investigative team, and that any attempt by the inquiry to access them would be challenged.

"If they use those records then I will certainly be on to the data protection office and it may well be that that also involves bringing a court application by way of an injunction to restrain them from using those records," Mr O'Donnell said.

He said the fact that three new members had been appointed to the investigative team did not change Mr Halappanavar's position.

He added that it was up to the Government to come up with an alternative independent inquiry.

Government focused on 'objective' inquiry

Earlier in the Dáil, Mr Kenny appealed to Mr Halappanavar to meet the chairman.

Mr Kenny said what was being reported in the papers was very different to what he had taken from Mr Halappanavar's statements.

He said Mr Halappanavar had said that he did not want anyone from the Galway hospital taking part in the inquiry, and that was no longer the case.

Mr Kenny said it was imperative to get the truth of the circumstances leading up to Savita's death.

He was responding to questions from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who said he felt it was inappropriate for the Taoiseach to make direct appeals to a grieving husband.

Earlier, Mr Martin said he found it unacceptable and inexplicable that no member of the Government had made contact with the Halappanavar family.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said the members of the inquiry must be "absolutely disconnected" to anybody that was involved in the tragedy.

Mr Howlin said the Government wants an objective, fair and speedy inquiry into what happened.

He said there was a responsibility on Minister Reilly as a matter of urgency to ensure there are no practices or procedures in any hospital that would impact on the health of women.

Mr Howlin said the women of Ireland and their families need to have that reassurance quickly.

Doctor warns against public inquiry

The former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Peter Boylan, has said a public inquiry into the death would not be a constructive way to address the issue.

The consultant obstetrician said: "If an inquiry is conducted it should be done in private initially, the findings should be made public.

“If it's a public inquiry, it will descend into a bit of circus because there will be misinterpretations of evidence given, which will be bandied about in the media, (and) all sorts of groups will latch on to different bits of evidence before other bits of evidence are heard."

Mr Boylan said it would be better if Mr Halappanavar agreed to allow the inquiry to use his wife's records, and if he does not participate it will be very unfortunate.

Dr Boylan said: "If he doesn't agree, I think the inquiry should still go ahead. If he's unhappy with the findings of the inquiry, well then he could take it further."

Mr Boylan added: "I think the important thing for everybody's sake, and for the reputation of the country, is to get at the facts fast and to have them out in the public arena, so that conclusions can be drawn and all sorts of speculation can be finished with."

Call to change inquiry chairman

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen has called for the inquiry chairman to be changed over concerns about his views on abortion, published in 2009.

Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran had said he would like to challenge and encourage societies and countries with restrictive abortion laws to look at the evidence available in favour of liberal abortion laws, and debate the possibility of making the choice of termination of pregnancy a legal right for women.