Portlaoise report prompts action from Leo Varadkar

Minister pledges strategy for maternity services in wake of infant-fatalities report

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has responded to a damning report on baby deaths at Portlaoise hospital by promising to publish a national strategy for improving maternity services by the end of the year.

Mr Varadkar also promised the independent patient advocacy service recommended in the report by the State’s health watchdog would be fully independent of the Health Service Executive.

The long-awaited report by the Health Information and Quality Authority said it was “unable to definitively conclude that services at the hospital are safe” and called on the HSE to immediately address deficiencies in maternity and acute services.

It is heavily critical of all levels of HSE management – local, regional and national – as revealed when The Irish Times reported on details of a late draft of the report last month. That report prompted a threat, later dropped, by HSE director general Tony O'Brien to take legal proceedings against Hiqa to stop its publication.


It is understood the HSE has given up on challenging the report legally but intends to press for changes in how Hiqa interacts with affected parties when drawing up future reports. It contends staff at the hospital were denied due process by having the opportunity to respond to allegations against them.

The report alleges women who had lost their babies were told to stop crying and for some, the first sight they had of their dead infant was when their child was squeezed into a metal box which was placed on a wheelchair.

A member of Hiqa's investigation team warned similar problems to those highlighted in Portlaoise exist in other units across the State. Prof James Walker, a UK obstetrician also involved in investigating the death of Savita Halappanavar and the deaths of babies in Portiuncula hospital in Ballinasloe, said other maternity units had similar problems because of the lack of a strategy. This was first called for two years ago in Hiqa's report on Ms Halappanavar, but little has happened since.

Yesterday, Mr O’Brien said Portlaoise was now “very safe” since changes were made to governance and staffing arrangements over the past year. Parents of children who died in the hospital have welcomed the report but say they still have no trust in the HSE and do not believe assurances that it is now safe.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times