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Symphysiotomy group calls for claims in redress report to be withdrawn

Last week 399 women who had the procedure were awarded up to €150,000 in compensation – but almost a third of applicants to the scheme were rejected.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

A GROUP REPRESENTING women who had symphysiotomy procedures has called on former judge Maureen Harding Clark to withdraw claims made in her report that some women who applied did not have the procedure.

“Harding Clark has made several false allegations in her report that we know are untrue,” said Marie O’Connor, Chairperson of Survivors of Symphysiotomy.

“Her report falsely alleges that leading symphysiotomy campaigners who said they had had a symphysiotomy did not in fact have one. This is utterly false and untrue.

“There are no prominent symphysiotomy campaigners that failed in their application to the scheme. This is one of a number of comments made by the report that is false and untrue,” according to O’Connor.

Campaigning in the past ten years has led to hundreds of women who were subjected to the procedure – which involved cutting the cartilage of a pregnant women’s pelvic bone to widen the birth canal – to come forward to seek an apology and explanation.

Some women opted to seek compensation through legal action against the state – as it promoted this procedure as preferred to a cesarean section long after other jurisdictions had prohibited it. An alternative way of seeking compensation was offered in the form of a redress scheme and report by the HSE, which was released last week.

The scheme awarded 399 women payments of up to €150,000, with the overall amount paid totalling to €34 million.

But almost a third of applications that were submitted to the scheme were refused, as the report outlines:

185 out of almost 600 applicants were unable to establish their claim. All of these applicants were assisted in trying to establish their claims before being declared ineligible/not accepted into the scheme.

The report says that when applications were considered “any doubt was generously applied in an applicant’s favour”, but “that is not to say that all statements and reports were accepted uncritically”.

Many personal recollections reduced to a statement were simply not corroborated by the contemporaneous medical records of the symphysiotomy delivery. Many applicants did not undergo symphysiotomy.

“Many subjective and partisan reports were received but excluded in favour of objective contemporaneous reports. Reports described as medico-legal reports, obtained specifically for the application and which merely repeated an applicant’s uncorroborated claims were afforded little weight.”

On the subject of ‘prominent campaigners’, Clark says she had a “great feeling of sadness” for those who believed they had the procedure but were not awarded the grant:

“I have no doubt that some of them have spent good money presenting their claims which cannot be recouped.

Those who have been active in representing themselves as victims to the media must now retrace their lives and must be understandably upset.

19/9/2014 Survivors of Symphisiotomy Marie O'Connor of Survivors of Symphysiotomy. Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

But O’Connor says that the scheme favours younger applicants to the scheme, where records are better preserved, easier to obtain and doctors are more likely to still be alive to testify that the procedure did occur.

“The scheme’s methods of assessment and the burden of proof it required – a burden that went beyond the burden of proof sought by the courts – made it difficult, if not impossible, for some women to prove their case.

“The scheme demanded absolute certainty, whereas the civil courts seek proof on the balance of probabilities. For unsuccessful women who had no right of appeal, this report has added insult to injury.”

But the report says that it did try to assist women in their application, but “were unable to assist because the application form provided nothing more than a name and address and the name of the hospital where the symphysiotomy was said to have been performed.”

Despite several written reminders and notices posted on the official website, nothing further was furnished and there was no engagement with the Scheme.

“In each case, we carried our enquiries as far as we could but were generally inclined to believe that experience showed the named hospital was unlikely to have carried out any symphysiotomy as claimed. Those applicants were ultimately declared ineligible.”

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O’Connor says that the document has caused “great anger” among the women who applied for the scheme, and that although “70% of applicants applied successfully to the scheme, the report by innuendo and inference smears all applicants equally”.

However, a separate symphysiotomy survivors’ group Patient Focus welcomed the outcome of the report and thanked Judge Clark “for her forensic approach to the issue and for debunking the more outrageous comments expressed on symphysiotomy”.

In their statement released last week, they both expressed their regret that some women decided to boycott the scheme, and expressed concern over the high number of applications that were deemed false.

“It is worrying that a significant number of women who did not undergo symphysiotomies wrongly believed they did for a prolonged period. Some indeed spoke publicly about their traumatic deliveries which they wrongly believed involved a symphysiotomy.”

Symphysiotomy was carried out on an estimated 1,500 women in Ireland up to the 1980s, long after it was discontinued in other jurisdictions.

Many women were not asked if they wished to have the procedure, and were never told by the hospital nor their GP after the birth either.

Read: State apology: 399 women given up to €150,000 each for symphysiotomy procedures

Read: 5 women due compensation for ‘barbaric and cruel’ childbirth procedure died before receiving it

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