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High Court quashes Harris's call for inquiry at National Maternity Hospital following patient death

Mr Justice Charles Meenan said it was irrational and unreasonable for the minister to direct such an investigation.

Simon Harris had sought a further inquiry into the hospital
Simon Harris had sought a further inquiry into the hospital
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE HIGH COURT has blocked Minister for Health Simon Harris’s direction for an inquiry into patient health and welfare at the National Maternity Hospital following the tragic death of a young woman during surgery for an ectopic pregnancy in 2016.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan said it was irrational and unreasonable for the minister to direct such an investigation into what happened at the National Maternity Hospital when such practices being investigated existed, without his intervention, in many other hospitals across the health service.

The judge found that the minister, before ordering his inquiry, had not properly considered the findings and recommendations of three other reports – those of the Coroner’s Inquest, an internal NMH inquiry and a further Health Service Executive probe.

These followed the death of Malak Thawley, 34, who died when her aorta was accidentally torn by a doctor during investigative treatment relating to a suspected pregnancy outside the womb.

Speaking to reporters, Harris said that he had asked the Department to consider amendments to the Patient Safety Bill to make sure that his Department has sufficient investigative powers in the future. 

“I intend to find another modality to externally examine this issue.

I’ve seen Mr Thawley’s statements this afternoon, my thoughts are obviously with him and Malak Thawley’s wider family. I know that Mr Thawley said in his statement that he hopes I will not be deterred from seeking the answers that I intend to seek.

“I wish to assure him that I absolutely will not be, nor will the government be.”

‘Far reaching implications’

The National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street had legally challenged the Minister’s direction to the Health Information and Quality Authority and asked for it to be quashed.

Judge Meenan said the minister had responsibility for the safety and welfare of patients using services provided by various health institutions including the hospital and must have believed on reasonable grounds that there was a serious risk to patients at the NMH.

He said the far-reaching implications of this were self-evident for patients, those who referred patients and for the medical and nursing and midwifery staff and somewhat surprisingly for a minister took six months to file a statement of opposition to the judicial review of his decision being sought by the hospital.

The judge said there had been lengthy exchanges of correspondence to and meetings with the Minister involving Caoimhe Haughey, of CM Haughey Solicitors who acted for Alan Thawley, husband of the late Thawley.

Judge Meenan found that the minister, through his officials, had not carried out any investigation of his own but claimed to rely upon the NMH and HSE Reports and evidence at the inquest.

It was clear to the court that the findings, recommendations and conclusions of these reports had not been properly considered.

The minister and his officials had stated on numerous occasions that the Minister’s proposed inquiry would be “a learning exercise” since the practices being inquired into were practised across the health system.

The judge found that the grounds relied upon by the minister in his statement of opposition the High Court challenge had not been supported by the relevant reports, correspondence or evidence given during the High Court hearing.

He said the object of the minister’s proposed investigation must be to eliminate a risk rather than to be a learning exercise and it was irrational and unreasonable for the minister to direct such an inquiry.

Judge Meenan quashed the decision of the minister to order his inquiry and said there was agreement between the hospital and the minister on the need for a further review.

The judge adjourned the proceedings until 9 October and told barrister Donal McGuinness, for the minister, and Hayley O’Donnell, counsel for the hospital, that he would deal with the matter of costs at that time.

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Ray Managh

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