State to compensate women who had controversial childbirth operations

Symphysiotomy survivors to be given between €50,000 and €150,000

Marie O’Connor, chair of  SOS, (Survivors of Symphysiotomy), at  Government Buildings. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Marie O’Connor, chair of SOS, (Survivors of Symphysiotomy), at Government Buildings. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Wed, Jul 2, 2014, 01:00

Women who had a symphysiotomy during childbirth will qualify for compensation payments of up to €150,000 under an ex-gratia redress scheme announced by the Government.

Minister for Health James Reilly drafted proposals following a report from retired Circuit Court judge Yvonne Murphy on the options for compensating more than 300 women who underwent the procedure.

‘Deep regret’

The scheme, which is costing €33.5 million, will award women who underwent a symphysiotomy between €50,000 and €150,000. It is expected about 100 women will qualify for payments of €50,000, about 240 will qualify for €100,000 while about 10 women will receive €150,000.

In a statement yesterday the Department of Health said the scheme would relieve the women of the burden of pursuing their case through the courts.

“Government recognises that the women affected are of advanced years, that such court cases can take a long time . . . and that not all women will want to pursue what can be a difficult case through the courts,” it said.

Under the terms of the scheme, a woman who avails of any award waives the right to take legal proceedings against any party, including the State.

Speaking at the announcement in Government Buildings, Dr Reilly expressed “deep and profound regret” on behalf of the Government that these procedures took place but stopped short of offering an apology.

“There is no issue of liability here for the State,” he said. “This is an act to try and bring closure to a situation where many of our citizens have suffered a lot of pain and distress.”

Symphysiotomy involved cutting a pregnant woman’s pubic bone to widen the birth canal. It was carried out on about 1,500 women between the 1920s and mid-1980s. About 80 per cent of the operations were performed in private hospitals.

Permanent injury

For many women the procedure left permanent injuries such as incontinence, difficulty walking and chronic pain. The practice was rarely used in other European countries when it was prevalent in Ireland.

In administering the redress, the State Claims Agency must agree on the most appropriate way of assessing a woman who had the procedure, the level of medical and other problems that have arisen and whether the procedure was performed “on the way out”, ie straight after a Caesarean section.

Survivors of Symphysiotomy, a group representing the vast bulk of women who had the procedure, reiterated calls for an independent inquiry. “For us the truth requirement is the overriding one and that is not one that was served today,” director Marie O’Connor said.

She also said the compensation falls short of settlements in the High Court. Previously the group called for awards between €250,000 and €400,000.

Legal proceedings

Ms O’Connor added that about 250 of the organisation’s 300 or so members have begun legal proceedings. The State Claims Agency estimates the scheme will take about eight working weeks to put in place.