Institute of Obstetricians withdraws Portlaoise letter

Chairman resigns after correspondence questioning women’s place on group

Prof Robert Harrison, who resigned as chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians after ‘The Irish Times’ published details of correspondence to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Prof Robert Harrison, who resigned as chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians after ‘The Irish Times’ published details of correspondence to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Institute of Obstetricians has withdrawn a controversial letter questioning the appointment of two women who lost babies at Portlaoise hospital to the steering group for a new maternity strategy.

The chairman of the institute, Prof Robert Harrison, has also resigned after The Irish Times published details of the correspondence to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

He is being succeeded by Prof Peter Boylan, former master of the National Maternity Hospital, who stressed that obstetricians saw patients as partners in advocating for better maternity services.

In the letter sent by Prof Harrison to Mr Varadkar earlier this month, he argued that obstetricians and other types of doctors were under-represented on the 28-member steering group.

However, it was a decision to include with the letters comments from individual members of the institute, which had been canvassed internally, which provoked consternation within the institute’s coordinating body, the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland. Some of these comments were signed but one, lengthy one was anonymous.

In one comment, an obstetrician claimed Róisín Molloy and Shauna Keyes, who lost babies in Portlaoise, would not be able to represent patients in a balanced way.

“Those chosen are both deeply involved in the various Portlaoise hospital reports and may have continuing actions against this hospital,” wrote one group of four obstetricians.

“Surely their personal tragedies should not be singularly allowed to inform the group’s recommendations?”

Prof Boylan said the institute was committed to continuing to work closely with midwifery colleagues in a partnership model of care in the best interests of patients.

“Among the challenges currently facing maternity services are the recruitment and retention of staff, and bringing our specialist numbers up to international norms.”

The institute has one representative on the steering group which includes two other obstetricians. Prof Harrison had argued obstetricians were under-represented with three places, compared to nine present or former midwives.

Some of his members had called on the institute to withdraw until it got equal representation with midwives.

Prof Harrison has more than 35 years of experience in obstetrics and gynaecology over a long and distinguished career. He was due to hand over chairmanship of the institute to Prof Boylan tin October.

When contacted by The Irish Times yesterday, Prof Harrison declined to comment.