Medical Council hearing halted due to conflict in sides’ evidence

Committee decides the evidence presented could not support a finding against doctor

Siobhán Whelan and her husband Andrew pictured with a photograph of their son Conor James Whelan at his inquest at Cavan courthouse in 2016. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan

Siobhán Whelan and her husband Andrew pictured with a photograph of their son Conor James Whelan at his inquest at Cavan courthouse in 2016. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan

 

A Medical Council fitness to practise committee has halted an inquiry into a complaint by a woman who claimed a vaginal procedure carried out on her in Cavan General Hospital was done without her consent.

The inquiry into the allegation of professional misconduct and/or poor professional performance by Siobhán Whelan, of Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, against Dr Rita Mehta, the local consultant obstetrician who carried out the procedure, has been halted following two days of evidence.

The committee of inquiry decided that taken at its height, the evidence presented could not support a finding against Dr Mehta.

“This inquiry is over,” the chairman, Paul Harkin said, in a short ruling delivered on Tuesday morning.

Dr Mehta, who did not give evidence, said through her counsel, Eileen Barrington SC, earlier this month, that her evidence would be that she got consent and could not have carried out the procedure otherwise, given its nature.

The procedure was carried out on May 13th, 2014 after Ms Whelan had presented at the hospital. Her child, Conor, who was delivered by caesarean section, died 17 hours after being delivered.

A two-day hearing earlier this month heard conflicting evidence as to whether Ms Whelan’s legs were in stirrups at the time of the examination. It also heard the view that it would not have been possible to have conducted the examination without consent, unless Ms Whelan was in stirrups.

In a ruling delivered on Tuesday, Mr Harkin, said the committee accepted the evidence that it was highly unlikely that stirrups were used and that they would not have have been warranted.

It said Ms Whelan had been trying to be truthful but was not correct when she’d said in evidence that her legs had been in strirrups.

He said the distress associated with what had happened had meant that her recollection and that of her husband, Andrew, who also gave evidence, was not reliable.

In her evidence, Ms Whelan described telling Dr Mehta loudly she did not want her waters to be broken, a procedure called an artificial rupture of membranes. Mr Whelan gave similar evidence.

Asked about this by Prof Patrick Plunkett, one of the three-person inquiry committee, midwife Ann Arnott told the inquiry she had no such recollection.

Another midwife, Olive McKeague, who was also in the room on the day in question, said she did not recall any departure from the hospital protocol that a woman should be advised beforehand as to what was going to happen.

Asked by Ms Barrington what she would do if a patient protested, she said: “I would ask the person to stop doing what they were doing.”

Ms McKeague was asked about Ms Whelan’s evidence that she could not physically get away from Dr Mehta, who she was “begging” not to carry out the procedure, because she, Ms Whelan, was in stirrups. Ms McKeague said she did not recall Ms Whelan being in stirrups.

Ms Arnott said she could not recall a woman being in stirrups for the procedure for “many years”. If Ms Whelan had been put in stirrups, she would have done it along with another midwife.

She had no recollection of that happening.

Midwives Remmi Rabidoux and Ann Marie Murray, as well as doctors Kalsum Khan and Rupanjali Kundu, also told the inquiry they did not see Ms Whelan in stirrups while they were in the room.

At the end of the second day of evidence, Ms Barrington asked that the inquiry be halted as the evidence presented by the council could not support a finding against her client, given that there was a conflict between Ms Whelan’s evidence and that of all the hospital witnesses.

The committee adjourned the hearing to consider Ms Barrington’s application, and delivered its ruling on Tuesday morning.

Dr Mehta said afterwards that she was very relieved. The Whelans, who the inquiry heard had lodged proceedings against the hospital, were not present for the committee’s decision.