HSE defends handling of home birth midwife investigation

Philomena Canning has not worked for a year despite having right to practise restored

A group of women with their children outside the Four Courts campaigning in support of midwife Philomena Canning last year. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

A group of women with their children outside the Four Courts campaigning in support of midwife Philomena Canning last year. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The HSE has defended its handling of an investigation into a home birth midwife it suspended last year in the face of a rebuke by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

Philomena Canning has not worked in more than a year, despite having her right to practise reinstated last February on the eve of a Supreme Court appeal.

She says continuing HSE investigations into her work are stymieing attempts to return to work and that she cannot take on a client “where a question hangs over me”.

Mr Varadkar, in a statement at the weekend, said he had expressed serious concerns to HSE director general Tony O’Brien on several occasions about the delay in resolving the matter and asked the HSE to reconsider its legal strategy.

He also said he planned to meet Ms Canning in the next few weeks “to hear her story”.

His spokesman said: “He hopes she will resume work as soon as she feels she can do so, and is confident that any woman who wants a home birth will be safe in her care.”

In response, the HSE said two reviews of Ms Canning’s work which it ordered in September 2014 were reaching a conclusion and would be ready in the next two weeks.

While it was desirable they be completed within four months, this was not always possible “for a variety of reasons,” a spokeswoman said.

The HSE maintains Ms Canning has been free to return to clinical practice since February. *

Ms Canning, who is suing the HSE, says she cannot do so when there are “lingering questions of competence” involved.

The HSE withdrew Ms Canning’s professional indemnity to practise last year, following what they described as two serious incidents.

Its actions angered many involved in home birth, including 29 women who had Ms Canning as their midwife. Supporters set up a campaign group and presented a petition to Dáil Éireann with 3,500 signatures.

Ms Canning failed last year in High Court proceedings to have the HSE move reversed, but the HSE reinstated her right to practise after she produced new evidence in the form of expert reports to the courts.

* This article was amended on October 12th, 2015.