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Taoiseach 'disappointed' Holles Street wants to go to court to stop inquiry into death of pregnant woman

Malak Thawley died in 2016 during surgery for an ectopic pregnancy.

National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street.
National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street.
Image: Mark Stedman

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said the Government is “very disappointed” that the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at Holles Street is threatening to take the Minister for Health Simon Harris to court to avoid an external inquiry into death of Malak Thawley.

Thawley (34) died at the Dublin hospital on 8 May 2016 during surgery for an ectopic pregnancy.

The NMH accepted responsibility and acknowledged liability for her death and last week a damages case taken by her husband against the hospital was settled.

Last month, the hospital expressed concern that a new inquiry into the death of a woman at the hospital could lead to “massive operational and safety issues”.

The inquiry to be carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) was committed to by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris.

However, the hospital argues that the inquiry could “have a chilling effect” on the delivery of high risk and emergency care at the hospital. The hospital has since been granted leave to bring a judicial review of the decision to hold the inquiry.

Speaking about the matter during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon, Varadkar said the health minister has sought an independent review of the Thawley case, and the Government is “totally behind him in that regard”, adding:

We are very disappointed and dissatisfied that Holles Street hospital is threatening to take the Minister or the HSE to court in order to avoid an external inquiry. There should be an external inquiry. Rather than trying to block it, the hospital authorities should welcome it. If they have nothing to hide, they should welcome it. We are totally behind the Minister in that regard.

The matter was raised during the course of questioning by Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly, who raised the issue of maternal deaths in Irish hospitals.

Daly asked Varadkar when the government will introduce legislation ensuring mandatory inquests are carried out for maternal deaths, something it committed to do three years ago.

Mandatory inquests

Earlier this year, Daly brought forward her own Bill to make it mandatory for the HSE to carry out inquests, but it was halted by the government at the last hour.

“There is something very wrong in our health service. There were 27 maternal deaths between 2011 and 2013 – but only three inquests. The culture of deny and defend has to end,” she said.

The Taoiseach confirmed that the Minister for Health has announced that all deaths in maternity hospitals will be subject to an external review.

Daly said she welcomed such a move, but said the reality is that mandatory inquests in respect of maternal deaths would be a key step in ending this culture and improving maternity care.

She said the House agreed to such legislation and it was prioritised by the current Joint Committee on Justice and Equality.

“We gave the Department of Justice and Equality six months to table amendments. On the night before the committee hearing, it pulled the plug and did not proceed with that investigation. The legislation in question is supposed to be a priority for the government,” said Daly, who called for clarity as to when this will be progressed.

“There is no appetite for transparency or no appetite to learn. It is a battle every time with the bereaved and stunned families on one side and the HSE lawyers on the other. It is a case of litigate, delay and deny. That is the HSE way,” added Daly.

“Twice in the past three years, the HSE has gone to court to prevent the truth coming out, first, to prevent the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, publishing the report on Portlaoise and, now, Holles Street hospital effectively taking the Minister to court to stop an external investigation into Malak Thawley’s death,” said the deputy.

Legislation ‘under consideration’

Varadkar said the legislation regarding mandatory inquests is under consideration.

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He maintained that Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world in which to give birth, both in terms of maternal mortality and neonatal mortality.

However, he said that should not give rise to complacency in any way.

“Any time a maternal death occurs, there should be total transparency. Hospitals should be upfront about what happens and should carry out full investigations so that lessons can be learned and further events avoided into the future,” said Varadkar.

The Taoiseach said there are strong arguments in favour of a mandatory inquest in the case of every maternal death but there may be cases in which that is not appropriate, for example, where a family does not want one.

“We have cases of maternal death where it is known immediately why the mother died. An inquest may not be necessary in such cases. However, there is a strong basis for a mandatory inquest where the family requests it,” said the Taoiseach.

Daly replied by stating that both the former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, and the current Minister Charlie Flanagan, gave her guarantees that the legislation was a priority for government.

“I wonder whether we would be waiting this long if men were dying,” she asked.

Varadkar concluded by stating that the legislation is on the A list for promised legislation, stating that he intends to publish it this month.

If it is published this month, the Taoiseach envisages that the legislation could make its way thought both Houses of the Oireachtas “sooner rather than later”.

Comments are closed as legal proceedings are ongoing.  

Read: Hospital argues that inquiry into death of pregnant woman could cause ‘serious risk to patients’>

Read: Husband whose pregnant wife died during Holles Street surgery settles damages case>

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