April inquiry may be extended if hospital and husband call their own witnesses
The full inquest into the death of pregnant woman Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway is scheduled to last for a week in April, it was confirmed at a preliminary hearing yesterday.
However, the inquest, which will start on April 8th at Galway Courthouse, may take longer if both Ms Halappanavar’s husband Praveen and the hospital call their own expert witnesses.
Lawyers for Mr Halappanavar indicated yesterday they may call their own expert witnesses in addition to the five experts called to give evidence by the Galway city coroner, Dr Ciarán McLoughlin. Lawyers for the hospital said they too may call expert witnesses if this happens.
The five expert witnesses being called by the coroner include the former master of the National Maternity Hospital, Peter Boylan.
The other expert witnesses are Dr Susan Knowles, consultant microbiologist at the National Maternity Hospital; Dr Peter Kelehan, retired consultant paediatric pathologist at the National Maternity Hospital, assisting Dr Grace Callagy, who carried out the postmortem; and Dr Frans Colesky, consultant pathologist at University Hospital Galway and an expert on placental pathology.
At the start of yesterday’s preliminary hearing, Dr McLoughlin acknowledged the presence of Mr Halappanavar at the inquest.
“I extend my sincere condolences and sympathy to you on the death of your wife and undertake to conduct this inquiry with solemn respect, dignity and courtesy to you and to the memory of the deceased, your beloved Savita.”
He said it was his duty as coroner to ensure that the inquiry was independent, effective and prompt, and that the procedures were open, transparent and accountable, and subject to public scrutiny “with the involvement of the next of kin to an appropriate extent”.
Dr McLoughlin said he had received full co-operation from Ms Halappanavar’s family, the gardaí and the HSE, and their legal representatives.
Mr Halappanavar is being represented by senior counsel Eugene Gleeson and John O’Donnell, barrister, instructed by solicitor Gerard O’Donnell.
The hospital and its staff are represented by senior counsel Declan Buckley, instructed by solicitor Amanda Tierney.
Mary Dunnion and Emily McLoughlin appeared for the Health Information and Quality Authority, which is carrying out an inquiry into standards at the hospital, prompted by Ms Halappanavar’s death.
Some 48 statements have been submitted by members of the hospital staff and other witnesses, the inquest heard, with another six to come within the next week.
Mr McLoughlin said these documents would remain confidential until the main inquest started.
Lawyers for the hospital said two further members of staff were unable to file statements at this time.
Mr Buckley said he was conscious of the difficult position these witnesses were in and he wanted to safeguard them from further distress.
The coroner said two members of staff who had made written entries in the hospital records had provided confidential certification of their inability to assist the investigation. He said he accepted this explanation and he would wait to see if this issue resolved itself before the main inquest.
However, lawyers for Mr Halappanavar expressed their concern. Mr O’Donnell said his client wanted to know what evidence these people could give and to examine whether the inquiry should take place at all without it.
After further discussion between the parties, Mr Buckley undertook to write to Mr Halappanavar’s legal team in confidence explaining the issues involved.
Mr O’Donnell also expressed his “great concern” at the absence of a pathologist’s report at this stage.
The coroner said Galway city council had agreed to fund the extra costs of the inquest, including those of the expert witnesses.