Savita inquest opens in Galway
The leaking of confidential information provided to the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar is causing “significant distress” to the staff of Galway University Hospital, a preliminary hearing heard this morning.
Lawyers for the hospital said information from statements had been passed on and commented on, often in a misleading way. This was causing significant upset to staff who were asking why their point of view was not being advanced, Declan Buckley SC, for the hospital, said.
It has been widely reported in the past 24 hours that medical records confirm that Ms Halappanavar did request a termination while a patient in the hospital last October, but that it was refused.
Ms Halappanavar died at the hospital on October 28th last year, a week after she presented with back pain and was found to be miscarrying.
Her husband says she asked several times for a termination as the miscarriage lasted four days. This was refused, he says, because a foetal heartbeat was present. She died of septicaemia three days after the foetal heartbeat stopped and the womb contents were removed.
Mr Buckley called on coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin to intervene to prevent “an unedifying spectacle” in the event of further releases of information before the full inquest is held.
Lawyers for the hospital and for Ms Halappanavar’s husband Praveen told the coroner they would treat the statements provided to them in a confidential manner.
The full inquest will start on April 8th at Galway Courthouse and will last a week, this morning’s hearing heard. Five expert witnesses will be called, including the former master of the National Maternity Hospital, Peter Boylan.
At the start of the hearing, Dr McLoughlin acknowledged the presence of Mr Halappanavar at the inquest, adding: “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 is independent, effective and prompt, and that the procedures are 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 cooperation from Ms Halappanavar’s family, the Gardai and the HSE, and their legal representatives.
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. Lawyers for the hospital said two members of staff were unable to file statements at this point of time.
The coroner said he would wait to see if this issue resolved itself before the main inquest but after lawyers for Mr Halappanavar expressed their concern the parties agreed that the hospital’s legal team would write to them explaining the reasons involved in confidence.
Galway city council has agreed to fund the extra costs of the inquest, including those of the expert witnesses.