Consultant who carried out research on women without consent put on leave

Ray O’Sullivan to challenge move linked to research consent issues in Kilkenny hospital

Last June, Prof Ray O’Sullivan told The Irish Times he did not feel he needed to obtain consent before carrying out tests on the vaginas of five women patients. Photograph: Thinkstock

Last June, Prof Ray O’Sullivan told The Irish Times he did not feel he needed to obtain consent before carrying out tests on the vaginas of five women patients. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

A consultant at St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, who carried out research on five women patients without their consent, has been placed on administrative leave.

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Prof Ray O’Sullivan has told colleagues he plans to vigorously challenge the decision by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to place him on leave, effective from last Wednesday.

Prof O’Sullivan will remain on leave, on full pay, while his case is dealt with under the HSE’s disciplinary procedures. The decision to place him on leave was made by HSE director general Paul Reid.

Last June, Prof O’Sullivan told The Irish Times he did not feel he needed to obtain consent before carrying out tests on the vaginas of five women patients last September. The tests were stopped after nursing staff raised concerns over whether the required consents had been obtained from the hospital and from the patients.

The hospital sought his suspension, prompting Ireland East Hospital Group to commission a report into the issue, which found no evidence of informed consent having been sought from the women.

Two reports

The hospital group then commissioned a second report, but after The Irish Times revealed what had happened, Mr Reid assumed responsibility for dealing with the issue. As a consultant with a pre-2008 contract, Prof O’Sullivan is legally employed and responsible to the chief executive of the (now defunct) health board.

Mr Reid wrote to Prof O’Sullivan last month enclosing the two reports and a summary of the incident, and seeking a response by July 31st.

Prof O’Sullivan replied by letter, after which Mr Reid sent a second letter earlier this week placing him on administrative leave with immediate effect.

Contacted on Thursday, Prof O’Sullivan declined to comment, saying the matter was with his legal advisers and would be “sorted out” by them.

A spokeswoman for the hospital group said: “The Ireland East Hospital Group and HSE are precluded from discussing issues between employers and employees. Therefore we have no comment at this time.”

‘Pressure study’

The procedure performed on the five women involved flushing their vaginas with water and testing the resultant changes in pressure. Prof O’Sullivan is trying to develop a technique that could reduce or replace the need for a speculum, the traditional tool used by gynaecologists to open the vagina for examination.

The patients, who were in hospital for a hysteroscopy (examination of the uterus* with a miniature camera), were unaware of the research work being carried out by Prof O’Sullivan. This involved a rectal probe, sourced from outside the hospital, being inserted into the vagina. This was connected to a monitoring kit which was used to measure vaginal pressures.

Prof O’Sullivan, in correspondence with the hospital group, has described the research as a “pressure study” using sterile water and has said the transducers on the equipment were changed between patients on the insistence of nursing staff.

“I felt I didn’t need consent. I didn’t because we weren’t actually doing the research. We were just seeing if a particular procedure that we were planning on doing as part of the research could be done,” he told The Irish Times in June.

*This article was amended on August 9th, 2019