Saolta reported ‘progress’ while issues arose in Portiuncula

Councillor asks how hospital group reassured public while ‘serious situation’ developed

Councillor Catherine Connolly questioned why an “accountancy firm” had been hired to “review hospital procedures”. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

A former mayor of Galway has said that she is "aghast" at the identification of "apparent deficiencies" in the care of seven babies at the maternity unit at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, two of whom died while five suffered oxygen deprivation during delivery.

Independent councillor Catherine Connolly has questioned how the Saolta University health care group, which is responsible for Portiuncula, could have been "reassuring the public" in early December on implementation of recommendations arising from the death of Savita Halappanavar when issues were arising in the maternity unit at Ballinasloe.

"How can the hospital group clap itself on the back and say everything is under control when, just over two years after Ms Halappanavar's death, we have a serious situation in the maternity unit in Ballinasloe where seven babies are deprived of oxygen?"Cllr Connolly said, speaking to The Irish Times.

Cllr Connolly, who is a member of the regional health forum, said she had attended the public board meeting hosted by the Saolta group on December 4th when “significant progress” was reported on the implementation of the local recommendations arising from all three investigations into the death of Ms Halappanavar.

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This included the results of an independent review by Ernst&Young of the group’s progress on implementing the Hiqa recommendations.

In its statement on Thursday night on Portiuncula, Saolta said that on December 4th it “mandated the implementation of corrective measures designed to address the quality of care issues that had been identified.

“Since then in repeated re-audits the hospital has confirmed the on-going full implementation of the corrective measures,”it said.

In his report to the board for the December 4th public meeting, Saolta group clinical director Dr Pat Nash found that all of the local recommendations arising from the HSE patient safety review - the Professor Arulkumaran review – and all of the coroner’s applicable local recommendations had either been fully implemented or were the subject of an implementation plan.

The independent review by Ernst&Young reported that all of the five local Hiqa recommendations directly relating to patient care had all either been fully implemented or were the subject of ongoing implementation.

Cllr Connolly also questioned why an “accountancy firm” had been hired to “review hospital procedures”.

“We are now dealing with it as a business -using the language of business - and we all know what happened to businesses,”she said.

A Saolta group spokesman said that the fact that the “apparent deficiencies” were picked up at Portiuncula hospital showed that the system which had been put in place as a result of the investigations into Ms Halappanavar’s death was “working”.

The Ernst and Young review had examined "systems" rather than individual cases, he said.

The spokesman confirmed that the internal preliminary review at Portiuncula by Dr Geraldine Gaffney was initiated in late November.

The spokesman said that the preliminary review involved a “step-by-step process” to examine individual case files, and protective measures had been put in place.

He said that a senior management team from the hospital group was involved with Portiuncula’s maternity unit on an “ongoing basis”, was taking an oversight role, and this had involved ensuring that different procedures were introduced.

An “in-depth review” by an independent team would be “available in approximately three months”, Saolta has said.

Galway East Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton said he had spoken to Minister for Heath Leo Varadkar by phone on the issue, and wished to reassure people that Portiuncula's maternity unit is safe, as procedures had been put in place.

However, he said he was “very disappointed” that more effort had not been made to contact all of the families involved before the issue was “leaked to the media”. He said he was conscious that there were grieving families involved.

Michael Fitzmaurice, Roscommon and South Leitrim TD, said he was disappointed that the parents of the babies involved “found out about the inquiry through the media and not from the management of the Hospital Group” and hoped that any inquiry would be “transparent and independent of other medical agendas”.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times