HSE would be 'criminally negligent' not to proceed with Halappanavar inquiry - Tony O'Brien

Thursday 22 November 2012 19.43
HSE says there is no way to stop its inquiry into Savita Halappanavar's death
HSE says there is no way to stop its inquiry into Savita Halappanavar's death

The Chief Executive designate of the Health Service Executive, Tony O'Brien, has said it would be "criminally negligent" for the HSE not to proceed with its investigation into the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Ms Halappanavar, 31, died at University Hospital Galway on 28 October following a miscarriage.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr O'Brien said it is carrying out a clinical review in order to find clear answers as to what happened and to ensure future patient safety.

However, he added that the HSE was of the view a Health Information and Quality Authority inquiry should also be conducted into this case.

He said he has full confidence in the review and its chiarman, but that a statutory inquiry by HIQA would give further reassurance to the family and the public.

The HIQA inquiry could commence in advance of the conclusion of HSE review.

"There is no way we can stop this inquiry, it would be absolutely negligent, criminally negligent of us not to proceed," Mr O'Brien added.

"At the same time we have to recognise that greatest degree of confidence has to attach to the process.

"The HSE has no authority around calling sworn inquiries or tribunals. We do have the authority to carry out a clinical review, which is what we are doing."

Mr O'Brien said that a local clinical review had been initially instigated in response to Ms Halappanavar's death, and that this had been subsumed by the HSE investigation.

He said Minister for Health James Reilly was not made aware of the make-up of the investigative team beyond the appointment of its chairman, Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, ahead of the press conference on the matter.

The incoming HSE chief said he had not made Dr Reilly specifically aware that there were originally three consultants from University Hospital Galway on the team.

"He was aware of the selection of the chair and expressed his confidence, but the wider issues of the composition were a matter for the HSE rather than the minister," Mr O'Brien said.

"I told him about 15 minutes before the press conference that took place in Dublin that we would indeed be having a press conference.

“I also told him that in accordance with our desire to try and reach agreement with the family about the terms of reference, that those would not be published at that press conference, but he was not aware of the total composition of the review team."

Mr O'Brien accepted that the HSE was initially focused on the clinical aspects of the investigation, and was not as aware as it should have been about the wider aspects involved.

However, he said that once the HSE became aware of Mr Halappanavar's concerns in relation to the make-up of the team, the three Galway-based consultants were stood down.

In relation to Mr Halappanavar's concerns about inconsistencies and alleged omissions in the medical reports he has received, Mr O'Brien said any contribution Mr Halappanavar could make to shed light on these inconsistencies would be very helpful.

"We have provided the medical records that we have to the review team. Information from Mr Halappanavar, which would speak to any inconsistencies between what's in the record and his personal experience, would be of great value to the review team.

“Now I don't want to put unreasonable pressure. I understand his position, I can empathise and sympathise with it.

“But if he has information and I know that he has made some of it available through other public domains then it would be of huge interest to the review team."

Mr O'Brien added that Prof Arulkumaran has now left the country, but that he would certainly return to interview Mr Halappanavar should he agree to do so.

"Obviously he would wish, if it were possible to speak to the family, and if that opportunity were made available he would travel to Galway or indeed any other location to make that possible," Mr O'Brien said.

Meanwhile, The Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said he welcomed the fact that progress had been made during the day on the question of investigations in to the Savita Halappanavar case.

He said he understood that the HSE had a legal obligation to carry out an enquiry.

Mr Gilmore said: "I can understand how the husband of a woman who died in these circumstances would feel, of course I understand, I don't think there's anybody in the country who doesn't understand it, who doesn't empathise with it."

He continued: "That's why we need to ensure that we get to the bottom of what happened, that the truth is established, that's what I want to see happening and that's what the people in the country want to see happening."