Reilly says new inquiry into Galway death is 'not U-turn'
The expected announcement of a second State inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar is “an extra dimension, rather than a U-turn”, according to Minister for Health James Reilly.
The board of the Health Information and Quality Authority is expected to confirm today that it will undertake a statutory investigation into Ms Halappanavar’s death, following a request from the Health Service Executive.
It was unclear last night whether her husband Praveen, who says he will have nothing to do with the HSE inquiry, will co-operate with the investigation to be conducted by the authority, which is the State’s health watchdog.
His solicitor Gerard O’Donnell last night said he was “not ruling out” participation in the Hiqa inquiry. However, it was key for his client that it “sits in public, is open and witnesses are called”.
The authority, which has run well-received investigations into Tallaght hospital and misdiagnoses in the health system, conducts its investigations in private and does not take statements under oath but is free to draw up its own terms of reference.
Dr Reilly welcomed the involvement of Hiqa, saying it would provide “even greater ventilation” of the issues at stake in Ms Halappanavar’s death at Galway University Hospital, his spokesman said.
Asked why the Minister had not used his powers under the 2007 Health Act to order Hiqa to investigate the matter in the first place, he said the HSE was following a protocol, which requires it to get clarity about the facts involved and ensure that a safe service was being provided for patients.
“I wouldn’t see it as a U-turn. At all stages, the first thing the Minister wanted was absolute clarity about this death,” he said. Dr Reilly is due to meet staff from Galway University Hospital today, when he attends a meeting in nearby Merlin Park Hospital.
A special board meeting of Hiqa was held yesterday and is due to reconvene today. A spokesman would only say the board was considering the request received from the HSE.
Ms Halappanavar died at the hospital on October 28th, having presented with severe back pain a week earlier. She had been 17 weeks pregnant and was found to be miscarrying. Mr Halappanavar says she asked repeatedly that the pregnancy be terminated. This was refused, he says, as a foetal heartbeat was present.
HSE director designate Tony O’Brien confirmed it was pursuing its own inquiry – now termed a “clinical review” – despite Mr Halappanavar’s refusal to participate.
Mr O’Brien said even if Ms Halappanavar’s family did not co-operate, 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 accepted the HSE had not been “as aware as it should have been” of the wider context and focused on the “clinical aspects” in its inquiry.
Mr Halappanavar alleged that repeated requests by him and his wife for her pregnancy to be terminated are not documented in her medical records. In contrast, requests for tea, toast and an extra blanket are documented.
President Michael D Higgins has defended his call for proper medical treatment for pregnant women in the light of Ms Halappanavar’s case, despite criticisms that he had acted outside of his powers.