Woman (33) dies suddenly at UHL one day after losing her baby

HSE inquiry to establish ‘what happened and how, and then to take any appropriate actions’

An inquiry is being carried out at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) following the sudden death of a pregnant woman in her 30s last weekend.

It is understood that a 33-year-old woman died in UHL last Sunday, February 18th, four days after she was admitted to hospital complaining of feeling unwell during her pregnancy.

It is understood that the woman first attended University Maternity Hospital Limerick on Thursday and was later transferred to UHL on Saturday where she underwent tests. The woman and her partner were told that they had lost the baby on Saturday. The following day the woman’s condition deteriorated rapidly before she died suddenly.

The UL Hospitals Group said in a statement that it was “reviewing the circumstances surrounding” the woman’s sudden death in line with the HSE Incident Management Framework.


“This is normal HSE practice where a sudden death occurs in our care,” said a statement seen by The Irish Times. “This review will inform any future actions. Our staff continue to be available to support the family through this difficult process.”

It added: “We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of the patient concerned.”

HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster said the “primary aim” of the review was to establish “what happened and how, and then to take any appropriate actions”.

He also requested that “commentators not jump to conclusions and to respect the dignity of those who have died, the privacy of their grieving families and the dedication of our staff who come to work each day in the spirit of professionalism and care”.

“We have robust mechanisms for inquiring into unexpected deaths, unexplained poor outcomes and complaints, and we use them very regularly,” Mr Gloster said.

“In Limerick, as with all our hospitals and services, we have an incident framework. When examining a concerning outcome we do not start from a conclusion. We assess the evidence, and then draw conclusions.”

Incidents of maternal death in Ireland are rare. According to the Confidential Maternal Death Enquiry in Ireland Report for 2019–2021, published by the Maternal Death Enquiry at Cork University Maternity Hospital, 12 women died while pregnant or within six weeks of the pregnancy ending. Half of these deaths were classified as direct maternal deaths, due to obstetric causes and a further five were indirect maternal deaths, due to pre-existing disease aggravated by pregnancy, and one was classified as coincidental.

The death of the pregnant woman last weekend follows the death of a 16-year-old girl on January 29th at UHL. The results of a postmortem, which are due to be communicated to her family soon, will inform any decision on whether to formally investigate the death, according to health sources. There were 113 patients on trolleys in corridors and wards at the hospital on January 29th, the day the girl died.

On the recent deaths at UHL, Mr Gloster said each case was examined “in its own right” and that “two cases are rarely the same”.

“Similarities such as patient age for example, do not suggest the cases are the same. The public can be assured of our full attention to each case,” he said.

“All cases are considered in our incident frameworks, and in the case of maternal death there are very specific national processes followed regardless of the cause of death. We base our conclusions on systems analysis reviews, coroners courts and, if the evidence suggests, further appropriate inquiry.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health noted that they did not yet know all the facts surrounding the woman’s death but called for care in not “ascribing blame to clinicians who try their best at all times to do their very best for each and every patient in their care”.

“Our acute hospitals provide care to millions of people every year. Often we treat people who are very ill, either through chronic, ongoing illness or after trauma,” the spokesman said.

“While the vast majority of people recover after an episode of care, it is the nature of acute medicine that a small proportion of those we treat will not,” he said, adding that the department would await the results of the HSE review.

A statement from the HSE added: “Our first thoughts in relation to patient deaths at any location are with those affected. However, we are concerned that some current commentary in relation to tragic outcomes at University Hospital Limerick is putting forward inappropriate conclusions about some of these cases, and could affect the confidence of people in attending the hospital.

“We always address legitimate concerns and questions and have done so recently in the midwest. However, not every tragic outcome for a family in Limerick means there has been a failure in the service. Not every tragic outcome has the same attributes as other cases in which failure has been identified.”

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Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast