Hiqa board considers request for Savita inquiry


The board of the Health Information and Quality Authority is meeting to consider a request from the HSE to carry out a statutory inquiry into the care and treatment of Savita Halappanavar University Hospital Galway.

In a statement Hiqa confirmed it had received a request from the HSE and was considering the request and all the information that it had received and would issue its decision tomorrow.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he understood the position of Savita Halappanavar’s family in relation to the Health Service Executive inquiry into her death but would not say whether the Government would change its terms.

Mr Gilmore said he had no problem with the intervention of President Higgins and indicated he was willing to meet Ms Halappanavar’s husband Praveen. “I’m always willing to meet people.”

Asked if the Government would change its plans for an inquiry if that was what was required to gain the support of Ms Halappanavar’s family, he said the objective remained to get to the bottom of what happened.

Separately, Praveen Halappanavar’s solicitor Gerard O'Donnell has said there is no record in Ms Halappanavar’s medical file of her requests for a termination while she was being treated in hospital.

The director general designate of the HSE Tony O’Brien said even if Ms Halappanavar’s family decided not to co-operate with the executive’s inquiry, the review “must be brought to a conclusion”.

“There was 'no way' the inquiry could be stopped as it would be “criminally negligent” not to proceed, he said.

Mr Halappanavar's decision not to participate in the inquiry "does not absolve the HSE of an obligation to ensure that the inquiry proceeds” he said. The HSE inquiry would provide it with clinical information that may be of “immediate value” in the hospital, he said.

In order to give “further reassurance” to her family and the public, Mr O’Brien said he told the Hiqa chief executive wanted it to initiate its own statutory inquiry. This could take place before the HSE inquiry concluded, he said.

It was not “either or” as to a public review and the HSE clinical inquiry, he told RTÉ Radio’s News at One. There will also be a coroner’s process under way shortly which has “many attributes of a public inquiry,” he said.

Mr O'Donnell said he had studied the medical records given to the family closely and had written to the HSE about them on Monday.

Mr O'Donnell's main concern was that there was no request documented in the Savita Halappanavar's medical records that she or her husband had repeatedly sought a termination.

“There’s absolutely no entry by the medical team of this in the medical records,” he told RTÉ.

In response Mr O’Brien said any information that Mr Halappanavar had that would “speak to any inconsistencies between what’s in the record and his personal knowledge would be of great value to the review team”.

He also that the HSE was not as “aware as it should have been of the wider context that was emerging” and was focused on the “clinical aspects” in its inquiry.

Asked about the inclusion of three Galway clinicians in the original review team, he said Minister for Health Dr James Reilly was not aware of the total composition before it was announced because that was a matter for the HSE.

Once the HSE heard the concerns of the family it took steps to have the Galway clinicians stand down, he said.

Earlier today, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton welcomed President Michael D Higgins’s intervention in the controversy over the inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Ms Burton said she had read and heard the comments made by the President and believed they were considerate, thoughtful and humane, she added.

President Michael D Higgins yesterday intervened in the continuing row over the inquiry into the death of Ms Halappanavar, saying it must meet the needs of her family as well as those of the State.

Ms Burton was replying in the Dáil this morning to Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher who questioned how the inquiry could proceed.

"The family do not want it," he added. “Some of your own colleagues do not want it at this stage. And our President has told you it is clearly wrong."

When Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett intervened to say that the President could not be referred to in debate in the House, and that the constitutional position of the office should be respected. Mr Kelleher said Mr Higgins was reflecting the views of the Irish people.

President Higgins' unprecedented comments will increase the pressure on the Government to recast the investigation in response to continuing opposition from her husband Praveen.

Mr Halappanavar is seeking a sworn public inquiry, has refused to co-operate and made a threat of legal challenge by his lawyers if his wife's medical records are made available to the inquiry team.

"If they use those records then I will certainly be on to the data protection office and it may well be that that also involves bringing a court application by way of an injunction to restrain them from using those records," his solicitor Gerard O'Donnell told RTÉ's Prime Time last night.

Also in the Dáil today, Mr Kelleher and Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain urged the Taoiseach to personally intervene and make contact with Praveen Halappanavar.

Ms Burton said the issue was about the safety and care of women so the episode, or some tragic happening like it, did not occur again.

“It is the duty of the HSE to find out and see, in relation to that hospital, if there were unsafe practices and that they would be amended and strengthened so that women could be assured that their safety and care is the primary consideration,’’ she added.

Labour Senator Ivan Bacik today said there was a "great deal of disquiet" among her party colleagues about the way the "inquiry has been handled" and the lack of trust which had arisen as the inquiry unfolded.

It was "very hard to see how inquiry can continue" without the cooperation of the family, she told Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio.

Mr Higgins' comments were "very diplomatically framed" and "timely", she said.

Minister for Health James Reilly conceded yesterday the HSE investigation could lack a "completeness of information" if Mr Halappanavar maintains his refusal to co-operate.

Mr Halappanavar said on Prime Time last night, during which he repeated his lack of confidence in the HSE to carry out any investigation into his wife’s death.

"These people are salaried by the HSE," he said. "They pay them. We think that there would be some kind of bias during the investigation."

He said he and his wife were told by medical staff a termination on medical grounds was not possible as a foetal heartbeat was present and due to Ireland being a "Catholic country".

"We just can't believe that in the 21st century."

Ms Halappanavar died from septicaemia in University Hospital Galway last month. She had been 17 weeks pregnant and her husband says she repeatedly asked for a termination but was refused because a foetal heartbeat was present.

Mr Higgins said the investigation into Ms Halappanavar's death must ensure "above all else" that women will be safer and get the medical services during pregnancy to which they are entitled. He was responding to questions from local journalists during an official visit to Liverpool and Manchester.

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