Savita Halappanavar death report finds foetus, not mother, was main focus

Galway hospital staff underemphasised miscarrying woman’s worsening health, HSE draft report finds

The Health Service Executive report on the death last year at Galway University Hospital of Savita Halappanavar has found there was an overemphasis by hospital staff on the welfare of Ms Halappanavar's unviable foetus and an underemphasis on her deteriorating health.

The final draft report says: “The investigating team considers there was an apparent overemphasis on the need not to intervene until the foetal heart stopped, together with an underemphasis on the need to focus an appropriate attention on monitoring for and managing the risk of infection and sepsis in the mother.”

Praveen Halappanavar, the husband of Savita, is dissatisfied with the report, which was delivered to his solicitor, Gerard O'Donnell, on Friday.

He has instructed Mr O'Donnell and his medical adviser to meet the chairman of the investigating team, Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, later this week to submit their observations.


Key issues

Last night Mr O'Donnell outlined to The Irish Times the key issues arising from the report. It finds that on admission to the Galway University Hospital on Sunday, October 21st, Ms Halappanavar's white blood-cell count was elevated, which indicated her body was fighting an infection.

It finds her vital signs were inadequately monitored; that she was seriously ill by the evening of Tuesday 23rd, but that this was not acted on; that her team saw her on the morning of Wednesday 24th and she had further deteriorated, and still this was not acted on adequately; that further blood samples were not taken until later that day and that the High Dependency Unit did not get involved until the Wednesday evening, after the foetal heartbeat had stopped.

It is also revealed in the report that the possibility of performing an abortion was discussed by the medical team on the Wednesday. Mr Halappanavar was unaware this had been discussed. The couple’s request for a termination on the Tuesday is acknowledged in the report, but not in Ms Halappanavar’s medical notes. Having read through the report, Mr Halappanavar is said to feel it does not address why his wife died.

‘Not satisfied’

“No, he is not satisfied because it doesn’t answer the question why was the request for the termination not acceded to even when she became ill and her life was in danger, why wasn’t it acted upon then,” said Mr O’Donnell.

Ms Halappanavar died on October 28th of septicaemia and E.coli, having presented with severe back pain on October 21st. She was found to be miscarrying and was told it would be over in “a few hours”, Mr Halappanavar has said. However, his wife was still miscarrying on Wednesday afternoon. Her husband has said they asked repeatedly for a termination from the Monday but were refused because the foetal heartbeat remained and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.

Asked whether his client had a view as to why his wife died, Mr O’Donnell said he did. “He does have a sense why – that when the request for a termination was made she was told, ‘This is a Catholic country and this is the law’. He feels there could have been and should have been a termination and that’s what they were told. Of course that doesn’t come out in the report.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times