HSE and Cork University Maternity Hospital apologise over death of woman and baby

Marie Downey and three-day-old Darragh died after she suffered apparent epileptic fit

The HSE and Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) have apologised to the family of a 36-year-old woman and her three-day-old baby who died after the woman suffered an apparent epileptic fit in the hospital.

Counsel for the HSE and CUMH Conor Halpin SC apologised to the family of Marie and Darragh Downey from Knockanevin, Kildorrery, Co Cork, at the inquest into their deaths at Cork City Coroner’s Court on Monday.

Ms Downey was found lying partly on the floor and partly on the bed of her single room in CUMH shortly after 8am on March 25th, 2019, and there was blood at her mouth as well as other clinical signs that she had suffered an epileptic convulsion.

When the medical team and nurses moved Ms Downey to assess the situation, they discovered that her baby Darragh was lying under her in a manner that suggested that Ms Downey may have been breastfeeding the baby when she suffered the convulsion.


Attempts to resuscitate Ms Downey proved unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at 8.20am, while Darragh was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit where he was diagnosed with having sustained newborn brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.

He was put on a ventilator but following an assessment of his condition and a discussion with his father, Kieran, the next day, the ventilator was switched off and he died at about 5pm on March 26th, 2019.

Apology issued

On Monday, Cork City Coroner Philip Comyn opened the inquests into the deaths of Ms Downey and her infant son and an apology was issued by the HSE and CUMH to Kieran and to Ms Downey's surviving children, James and Sean.

In the apology read out in court by Mr Halpin, Prof John Higgins, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and clinical director of Ireland South Women and Infants Directorate at the South/Southwest Hospital Group, said CUMH would like to sincerely apologise for what happened.

He said that CUMH wanted to apologise to Ms Downey’s husband, Kieran, their sons, James and Sean, and to her parents and family for the events that occurred while their loved ones were under the care of CUMH and which resulted in the tragic loss of their lives.

“We cannot possibly comprehend the devastating impact these losses have had on you and your family. We have carefully reviewed the management of Marie’s case along with a formal external review of which you were part,” Prof Higgins said to Mr Downey in the apology.

“We have taken a number of steps with the ultimate aim of ensuring the safety of our patients at all times in CUMH. On behalf of all the staff of CUMH especially those who were involved in care of Marie and baby Darragh we are truly sorry and wish to express our deepest sympathies.”

Senior counsel Oonah McCrann, representing obstetrician Prof Keelin O’Donoghue, said her client wished to be associated with the HSE’s apology to the Downey family for the sequence of events that led to the loss of the lives of Ms Downey and her three-day-old baby.

"She would like to express her deepest regret and sadness at the death of the late Mrs Downey and baby Darragh and indeed I would also like on my own behalf, and on behalf of my solicitor, Justine Sayers, to express our deepest sympathy for the terrible tragedy," she said.

Senior counsel Dr John O’Mahony, for the Downeys, said his clients accepted the apology, and he thanked those who gave it, but he expressed regret that “transparency has not been visited on this inquiry”.

Ruled out

Earlier, Mr Comyn had ruled against allowing a HSE Systems Analysis Review Report into the deaths of Ms Downey and Darragh be admitted in evidence at the inquest and he told Dr O’Mahony that he would provide his reasons for his decision in writing in due course.

He granted an application by Dr O’Mahony to have a stenographer present to record proceedings while he also said that he would consider the issue of calling a neurological expert and having the inquest heard before a jury, before deciding to adjourn the inquest until September 23rd for mention.

Mr Comyn told Dr O’Mahony that he was fully conscious of the desire by the Downey family to have the inquest heard as expeditiously as possible but he could not give any guarantee as sought by Dr O’Mahony that he would be able to hold the inquest this side of Christmas.

“I understand how important it is for the family and also for the other parties to the inquest that matters be dealt with as speedily as possible . . . I’m very anxious to facilitate the family, I fully understand the problems and difficulties it causes them and also the other side.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times