Supporters of midwife stripped of indemnity hand in petition

Women turn out at Leinster House to submit 3,000-strong petition to Minister for Health

Women with their children outside the Four Courts late last month in support of midwife Philomena Canning (centre) who had her insurance refused by the HSE. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Women with their children outside the Four Courts late last month in support of midwife Philomena Canning (centre) who had her insurance refused by the HSE. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Susannah Sweetman’s fourth childbirth is approaching - and so she should know what to expect. But she doesn’t. “I have no idea what to do, I feel completely abandoned and I don’t know where to turn.”

Ms Sweetman, whose three previous children were born at home , is one of 25 women affected by a recent HSE decision to strip their midwife of indemnity insurance.

Many of them, and other supporters of Philomena Canning - a midwife of 31 years’ experience and almost 500 homebirths - turned out at Leinster House yesterday to submit a 3,000-strong petition to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

Ms Canning lost her insurance cover last month following an incident in August when a patient had to go to hospital post-delivery suffering pain and dizziness. She was discharged 10 hours later.

Another unspecified case was also mentioned by the HSE, but supporters of Ms Canning insist both women involved have given her their complete backing.

The High Court recently refused Ms Canning an injunction against the HSE move to withdraw the cover under the Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

In the meantime, many of her patients say they have been offered little in the way of support or alternatives from the HSE.

“I have been left to my own devices to find a new midwife and I can’t because there are no more self-employed community midwives available,” explained Ms Sweetman, who is completing a PhD in women’s experiences with the Irish maternity service.

“I really feel that this [issue] has to not be about home versus hospital. My reason for having a homebirth is safety. It’s about appropriate care.”

Ms Canning maintains the removal of cover effectively shut down her practice. No findings against her have been made and no other midwife has received similar treatment, she says.

Yesterday, her patients lined up to support her, each voicing frustration over a lack of contingency for those approaching childbirth.

Lesley-Ann Wylie, due in just over a week’s time, is now likely to attend the Coombe Hospital, despite having prepared to be at home.

“Emotionally I am up and down and feel grief-stricken,” she said of the uncertainty.

“[The HSE] have completely ignored us. It’s like we don’t exist.”

Of her own situation, Ms Canning said: “You can do whatever you want to a midwife but you don’t [prevent them working] if it’s going to have consequences immediately for pregnant women.”

In response to yesterday’s demonstration, Mr Varadkar said he was in favour of homebirths which will form part of a general review of maternity services in the coming months.

However, a spokesman explained the Minister has no involvement in individual cases.

“When the HSE suspends an individual as a precautionary measure...it does not do so lightly. An overall competence and performance review is planned,” he said.

The HSE said it had “many supports available for providing maternity services”.