HSE management ‘clearly incapable’, say Portlaoise parents

Families who lost children told to ‘go away and have more children’, health committee hears

May 19th, 2015: Parents who lost babies at Portlaoise hospital appear before the Oireachtas health committee.


Families who lost babies at Portlaoise hospital have called on Minister for Health Leo Varadkar to investigate all levels of HSE management in relation to the scandal.

“The HSE management team is clearly incapable and cannot be trusted to implement the recommendations of this or previous investigations by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa),” according to Amy Delahunt, whose baby Mary Kate died following poor care in Portlaoise in May 2013.

Addressing the Oireachtas health committee, Ms Delahunt demanded to know how her avoidable death and those of others were allowed to happen.

She said the HSE must “stop misinforming the public” that the issues involved were not escalated nationally.

“The director general of the HSE (Tony O’Brien) must stop misinforming the public that these events were before his time with the HSE,” she added.

Mr O’Brien became director general of the HSE in July 2013, having previously worked in the Department of Health and, before that, at lower levels within the HSE.

Ms Delahunt also called on the committee to establish why HSE funds were continually being used on legal teams to limit the scope of inquests and to limit “any derived learning”.

She said patients were continually encouraged to go down the route of litigation, when Section 48 of the Health Act states that any matter that is or has been the subject of litigation cannot be investigated by the HSE.

Earlier, Mark Molloy, whose baby Mark junior died in Portlaoise in January 2012, listed 33 items of correspondence that passed between him and his wife Roisin and the HSE and the Department of Health in the months after his death.

It was only after their failure to get answers about his death from this interaction that the couple decided to talk to RTÉ’s Prime Time programme.

Mr Molloy said that despite all the meetings, correspondences, phone calls and investigations, senior officials told the couple they were “there to listen” to their story.

Referring to the parents’ meeting with Mr Varadkar last week, he said the harrowing stories told on this occasion disclosed the depth of the scandal “after many years of uncanny accounts of being misled, ignored and silenced”.

He said the parents vehemently disagreed that the scandal was the result of ignorance or a failure to escalate issues within the HSE.

“There would appear to have been an attempt at both local and national level to suppress repeated known red flags, which perpetuated failings leading to repeated deaths and injuries at a huge emotional, physical and financial cost to families and patients.”

Mr Molloy said it was clear now there were “far in excess” of five baby deaths in Portlaoise, the number previously mentioned. The same line was taken with all the families involved, who were told they were unfortunate and to “go away and have more children”.

He said he and his wife were encouraged by local managers to sue over the death of their son. “because when that happens the HSE stop the investigation”.

Ms Delahunt’s partner, Ollie Kelly, said as with other couples, they were told “we were the only ones” when their daughter died.

Yet at all levels there were opportunities to prevent what had happened, he said. “They failed us, they let us down. It was unforgiveable that management knew it was unsafe.”

The HSE refused to advertise a helpline for patients on the night of the Prime Time programme, as requested by Patient Focus, because it didn’t believe it would attract many calls, Cathriona Molloy of the patient organisation told the committee.

The organisation was forced to use its own phone number for a helpline, which attracted hundreds of calls in the days after the programme, she said.