The treatment of women who suffer tragedy or adverse events in maternity hospitals is "shameful" and the system for compensation is "far too adversarial", the Minister for Health has said.

Simon Harris was responding to questions at the Oireachtas Health Committee from party colleague Kate O'Connell about the "barbaric" treatment of women.

He said: "The way we treat women and patients in this country when they experience a tragedy or an adverse event in our hospitals is quite shameful. It is something that we should be collectively ashamed of."

He continued: "The system is far too adversarial.

"People who at the moment where they were preparing for a time of great joy bringing a new baby into the world and starting a family, all of a sudden have that joy replaced with the most unbelievable grief, and bereavement in some cases, or an extreme challenge in the case of finding that they now have responsibility for rearing their child with significant care needs above and beyond what anybody would have expected."

Ms O'Connell said in the aftermath of a birth that may have resulted in a disability to the baby, the mother is required to undergo examination on behalf of her own legal team and that of the State.

"I do think it is something that we need to work on. It is barbaric that a woman would have to go in and be examined by two separate sets of medical experts and be degraded and demeaned in that way," she said.

The committee was discussing 2016 estimates and proposals for expenditure in 2017.

Mr Harris said reform of the system was needed and that he is working with Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald on the issue.

He reminded the committee that the Tánaiste is to bring forward legislation in relation to "periodic payments".

He said families do not want to go to court "to get a lump sum payment, they want the care needs of their child met for the rest of their lives".

"The only people who benefit from the current system are the legal eagles. We are funding a system that benefits the lawyers and not the patients. We can't do that anymore and we are not going to do it." 

Minister Harris said that people who have had bad experiences want answers and want to know what happened and the way people have been treated is not acceptable.

He said that he will be bringing forward open disclosure as part of new legislation.

"The way we have treated women in our health service has been completely unacceptable.

"But building blocks have been put in place in very recent times - the new National Maternity Hospital, the new bereavement guidelines, a policy of open disclosure and moving to periodic payments ... we are at a significant moment in making sure we learn the lessons of the past."

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