Symphysiotomy survivor dies before case heard

Noreen Burns (83) sued National Maternity Hospital over procedure conducted in 1959


An 83-year old woman who had sought an early hearing of her action against the HSE over a symphysiotomy procedure carried out on her more than fifty years ago has died, the High Court heard.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine said today she was sorry to hear of the death of Noreen Burns, particularly in the circumstances where she had been trying to get her case on for hearing.

Mrs Burns’ legal team had liberty to apply to the court if it was sought to reconstitute the proceedings, the judge said.

Mrs Burns, from Dublin’s Southside, had taken proceedings against the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin over a symphysiotomy carried out in 1959.

Earlier this month, her lawyers said they had indicated to the hospital their intention to apply for an early date for hearing.

On that occasion, Ciaran Craven SC, for Mrs Burns, said his side had been told “in robust terms in correspondence” the case was not ready to go on, the hospital would be opposing the action and costs would be sought against Mrs Burns’ side.

Mrs Burns health had deteriorated since mid-June and she was in a critical condition in the ICU of Naas General Hospital, he outlined.

There was a net issue around liability in the case and the question had been distilled as to whether a symphysiotomy was warranted after Mrs Burns underwent a caesarean section procedure in 1959.

Michael Delaney SC, for the HSE, said it was clearly a very difficult situation and there was a “whole array of practical difficulties” in relation to the case. He said the pleadings had been first brought in the case in 2012 and there was a substantial issue involving the Statute of Limitations in the case.

Ms Justice Irvine directed the net issue on liability should be conveyed in writing by Mrs Burns’ side to the hospital so it could see if it could organise expert reports on the matter.