The High Court has quashed a decision by the Minister for Health to order an inquiry into patient health and welfare at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.

The court found Minister Simon Harris had not properly considered the findings and recommendations of three other reports before ordering the inquiry.

The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, had challenged a decision by the minister to order the Health Information and Quality Authority to carry out an investigation into issues after the death of a woman during surgery for an ectopic pregnancy two years ago.

Malak Thawley, 34, died when her aorta was accidentally torn by a doctor during the surgery.

At a hearing last July, the High Court was told that such an inquiry would raise massive operational and safety issues not just for Holles St but for maternity services throughout the country.

Master of the hospital Dr Rhona Mahony said the reasons for the minister commencing such an investigation did not make sense and ignored the unique features of maternity medicine.

The hospital argued that there was no justification for the inquiry, particularly when there had been three other reports into Mrs Thawley's death: by the hospital itself, the Health Service Executive, and the coroner.

In a judgment delivered this morning, Mr Justice Charles Meenan found the minister through his officials did not carry out any investigation of his own but claimed to rely upon the NMH report, the HSE report and the evidence given by medical staff at the inquest.

The judge said it was clear to him that the findings, recommendations and conclusions of those reports were not properly considered.

He said that no regard was given to the evidence given on oath at the inquest.

The judge found the briefing notes which advised the minister that he direct a Section 9 investigation reflected the deficiencies in consideration given to the three reports.

He also found the grounds for the investigation fell short of those required.

The judge said: "The minister and his officials stated on numerous occasions that the Section 9 investigation would be a learning exercise and that the practices being inquired into were not unique to the hospital but were practised across the health system".

He found that neither the reasonable grounds or serious risk identified by the minister were communicated to the hospital, despite repeated requests to do so, and at no stage was the hospital advised or directed to take steps to either eliminate or reduce the serious risk identified by the minister either pending the outcome of the Section 9 investigation or at all.

Mr Justice Meenan said the grounds relied upon by the minister in his statement of opposition to the High Court challenge were not supported by the relevant reports, correspondence or evidence given during the High Court hearing.

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The judge said the object of a Secion 9 investigation must be to eliminate a risk rather than to be a learning exercise and it was irrational and unreasonable for a minister to direct such an investigation into a hospital in circumstances where the practices that are being inquired into exist without any intervention by the minister in many other hospitals across the health service.

The judge quashed the decision of the minister to order the inquiry.

However he pointed to the HSE report which stated "the potential for learning from some patient safety incidents ... is so great or the consequences so significant that these incidents require a comprehensive response".

He said that in the case of the tragic death of Malak Thawley, there had been such a response but it was no necessary to apply the learning.

The judge said there was agreement between the hospital and the minister of the need for a further review.

"This should be followed up so that the lessons learned from this tragedy can be applied across the health service and such a tragic event avoided in the future," he said.

After the judgement, Mrs Thawley's husband Alan issued a statement in which he welcomed the end of the proceedings and said the four-day hearing revisited the tragic and distressing facts of his late wife's "needless and negligent death", which was particularly painful for him.

He said he hoped the hospital would fully co-operate with a promised external review.

In his judgment Mr Justice Meenan said it had become clear during the High Court case that "relations between the hospital and the minister/Department of Health had deteriorated".

He said discussions of co-location of the hospital on the campus of St Vincent's University Hospital ceased shortly after the commencement of the procedings, adding "in the events leading up to the tragic death of Mrs Thawley both a vascular team and a cardio thoracic team had to be summoned to the Holles St hospital from St Vincent's some distance away.

"Though the distance was small it was nonetheless a distance. One of the benefits of the proposed co-location is that such teams would be on the same campus. The decision to end talks on co-location could hardly be considered to be in the best interest of patient safety," the judge added.

He said the hospital was entitled to challenge the minister's decision, as not to do so would be an absence of governance.

Mr Justice Meenan said in his view good governance of the hospital entails maintaining the confidence of patients in the services provided.

"This is all the more so when those attending the hospital are women at a particularly vulnerable time of their lives," he said.

"Given the decision of the court, not to have challenged the decision to hold a Section 9 investigation, with all that it implies, would have been an absence of governance".