Systems failures identified in Savita Halappanavar case

Midwife says she made ‘Catholic country’ comment in response to termination plea

Midwife manager Ann Maria Burke yesterday acknowledged that she had told Savita Halappanavar she  could not get a termination “because Ireland is a Catholic country”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Midwife manager Ann Maria Burke yesterday acknowledged that she had told Savita Halappanavar she could not get a termination “because Ireland is a Catholic country”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Thu, Apr 11, 2013, 06:00

The inquest into Savita Halappanavar’s death has made major progress in establishing the chain of events that occurred as her condition deteriorated in Galway University Hospital last October.

Coroner Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin believes he has identified a number of systems failures that occurred in Ms Halappanavar’s treatment, including a failure to monitor her condition regularly and a failure to pass on the result of key medical tests and observations.

The inquest also appears to have solved the mystery of who told Ms Halappanavar and her husband Praveen they could not get a termination “because Ireland is a Catholic country”.

Midwife manager Ann Maria Burke yesterday acknowledged that she made the remark to Ms Halappanavar when she was miscarrying but there was still a foetal heartbeat. In evidence to the inquest yesterday, she expressed regret about the remark but explained that it wasn’t intended to be hurtful.

“It was not said in the context to offend her. I’m sorry how it came across. It does sound very bad now but at the time I didn’t mean it that way. It was the law of the land and there were two referendums where the Catholic Church was pressing the buttons.”


Termination request
Meanwhile, Ms Halappanavar’s obstetrician Dr Katherine Astbury denied making the same remark to her patient, as alleged by Mr Halappanavar. Her account was backed up by a junior doctor who said she was present for the conversation when Ms Halappanavar requested a termination.

Dr Astbury agreed with the coroner that Ms Halappanavar’s clinical signs were not checked every four hours after her membranes ruptured, as required by hospital guidelines.

She said she told Ms Halappanavar that “in this country it is not legal to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of poor prognosis for a foetus”. She did not make a note of the patient’s request for a termination.

Asked if Ms Halappanavar would have been offered a termination earlier had she been in another jurisdiction, for example England, Dr Astbury replied that if she were in a country where abortion was legal she would have been offered that option.