Irishwoman praised by Dutch prime minister for ‘open disclosure’ campaign

Adrienne Cullen died as a result of medical negligence in the Netherlands

Adrienne Cullen at  home in Voorschoten, in the Netherlands.

Adrienne Cullen at home in Voorschoten, in the Netherlands.

 

An Irishwoman who died in the Netherlands of cervical cancer as a result of medical negligence has been praised by the country’s prime minister for her “tireless efforts” to improve Dutch standards.

Extending “sincere condolences” in a letter to Adrienne Cullen’s husband, Peter Cluskey, prime minister Mark Rutte said her death last New Year’s Eve was “indescribably tragic”.

The Sligo-born writer and editor wrote a book about her experiences, Deny, Dismiss, Dehumanize: What Happened When I Went to Hospital, which was launched in Amsterdam last night.

Until her death she campaigned for “open disclosure” in cases of medical harm in hospitals, and for an EU-wide ban on non-disclosure agreements – otherwise known as “gagging clauses” – in legal settlements.

In his letter to Mr Cluskey, Mr Rutte said: “I have great respect for Adrienne’s tireless efforts to achieve official acknowledgement and increase transparency in case of medical errors.

“I am also terribly sorry that you feel you and your wife did not receive the support to which you were entitled from the organisations involved. I fully understand your desire to draw attention to this situation.”

Ms Cullen settled her legal action against UMC Utrecht, the Netherlands’ largest hospital, after it finally accepted 100 per cent liability after an independent inquiry ruled that she would have been cured if her test results had not been lost.

Royal visit

Meanwhile, Áras an Uachtaráin has said it would accept a copy of Ms Cullen’s book to pass to President Michael D Higgins before he meets King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima during their visit to Ireland in June.

Leading Dutch consultant Dr Volkert Wreesmann, who launched the book, said he hoped the Dutch royal couple would “kickstart” a campaign for greater openness in a country where people were reluctant to challenge authority.

The book, he said, was a tribute to Ms Cullen’s character, adding that she had been poorly treated by a hospital which sought to “quarantine” her case in law, and offer “bureaucracy and indifference” rather than openness.

Dr Jean van Sinderen Law from University College Cork, which awarded an honorary doctorate to Ms Cullen shortly before her death, said Ms Cullen had, in life, “taken pride” in her identity and in human values.

“Radical changes” in attitudes have already taken place by her campaign to bring attention to the handling of medical negligence: “Her life has made a difference,” Ms Sinderen Law told the audience including Ireland’s deputy ambassador, Robert Jackson.

Ms Cullen, whose case is widely known now throughout the Dutch medical system, had offered people in the Netherlands “an uncompromising description” of what had happened.

“She had the courage to speak her mind, even when her voice shook,” said Dr Sinderen Law, adding that she had shown a “resilience and tenacity to ensure that right was done”.

Peter Cluskey, an Irish Times contributor based in the Netherlands, said he hoped the Dutch royals, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, would read “this terrible story of a courageous Irish woman who made the Netherlands her home before they visit Ireland in June”.

Veronica van Nederveen, who leads the Dutch patients’ organisation, Patientenstem.nu, said Adrienne would serve as “our example” as it continued to campaign for change in the Dutch medical service.

Consultant Hans Kraak said human error would happen in hospitals, but it was vital that doctors respond openly to patients, rather than retreat behind a wall of legal defences when those errors occur.

Throughout her illness, Adrienne Cullen had battled to shine a light into Dutch practices: “You really die when people have stopped talking about you. We won’t stop taking about Adrienne.”