HSE chiefs did not visit Portlaoise despite concerns

Hiqa concern that officials did not assess hospital after report about babies dying

“Austerity focused” senior HSE officials failed to visit Portlaoise hospital to assess safety after revelations of a series of baby deaths in the maternity unit, according to a draft report by the State’s health regulator.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) expresses significant concern over the failure of senior managers to see the situation on the ground in Portlaoise after last year’s RTÉ Prime Time programme on the deaths. Managers were “predominantly focused” on the Government drive to control spending at the time.

The draft report points to significant high-level concerns over the quality and safety of the maternity unit as far back as 2007 and says these were not acted upon. It says regional staff claimed to be addressing the issues when an offer was made to have an independent obstetric review carried out, while national managers were unaware of them.


Publication of details of the report in The Irish Times has reignited the row between the two State agencies. The HSE accused Hiqa of leaking the report and claimed this was an attempt to publish certain findings before it had an opportunity to respond appropriately and to correct inaccuracies.


In response Hiqa said: “Any suggestion that Hiqa has leaked any investigation report is totally false and untrue.”

Opposition parties called on the Government to address the issues. Fianna Fáil spokesman Billy Kelleher said Minister for Health Leo Varadkar should make a statement and ensure there were no more delays in the publication of the final report. This has been delayed by objections from the HSE, whose director general Tony O'Brien has said the draft is inaccurate.

Mr Kelleher said the revelations raised questions for the Government: “If it is the case the Government and health service managers knew that these services could not be run to a safe standard and just turned a blind eye to the situation, it is extremely serious”.

However, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, who is based in Portlaoise, claimed the "deliberate drip-feeding" of the report was designed to damage the reputation of the hospital.


Families whose babies died in the hospital called for the report to be published and action taken as soon as possible. “We’re depending on Hiqa to get the truth out. The longer this goes on, the harder it will be to fix,” said

Ollie Kelly

, who with his partner

Amy Delahunt

lost their daughter Mary Kate to medical misadventure in the hospital almost two years ago.

“Our families can’t get our kids back, but we can hope to save other mothers and babies going through what we went through,” he said.

In response to queries from this newspaper about specific claims in the report, the HSE said it was on record as stating the report contained inaccuracies and lacked context and balance. “It is most unfortunate that certain individuals will have sight of adverse findings pertaining to them for the first time in the media. This is highly irregular and in direct conflict with an individual’s constitutional rights to due process and fair procedures.”

Hiqa said: “Hiqa continues to finalise this investigation report, the due process in respect of the draft report is ongoing and the Investigation report has yet to be finalised and submitted to the board of Hiqa for its consideration and approval.

Meanwhile, it has emerged the HSE is funding counselling for up to 18 women who lost babies at the hospital and has offered support to a further 37 families.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times