Symphysiotomy scheme pays out nearly €4m to date

Further 32 offers worth €2,500,000 from scheme’s assessor, Judge Maureen Harding Clarke, being considered

Marie O’Connor, chair of Survivors of Symphysiotomy: said many members had struggled with applications to the scheme as they were finding it to difficult to access their medical records. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Marie O’Connor, chair of Survivors of Symphysiotomy: said many members had struggled with applications to the scheme as they were finding it to difficult to access their medical records. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Awards totalling €3,850,000 have been accepted by 55 applicants to the State redress scheme for survivors of symphysiotomies, according to latest figures from the Department of Health.

The figures, up to January 16th, 2015, show a further 32 offers worth €2,500,000 have been made by the scheme’s assessor, Judge Maureen Harding Clarke. These are currently being considered by applicants.

The scheme, which is worth €34 million, accepted 572 applicants by the closing date of January 14th. This is 63 per cent more than had been estimated by Judge Yvonne Murphy in a 2013 report for the then minister for health James Reilly, which formed the basis of the current scheme.

The redress scheme was established by the Government to compensate women who underwent symphysiotomies in Irish hospitals between 1940 and 1990. The procedure involved cutting the pelvic bone to create more space during childbirth and was favoured over Caesarean sections by some doctors as it would enable women to have larger families.

The procedure was abandoned in most parts of the world by the middle of the 20th century, but continued to be used in Ireland for what is considered to be a mix of religious and cultural reasons. Common long-term effects for the women included impaired walking, chronic pain and incontinence. In some cases, babies died or were injured during the operation.

The scheme offers three categories of payment, at €50,000, €100,00 and €150,00, depending on the severity of the injuries and documentation that is submitted. It also provides for women who underwent pubiotomy, which involved cutting the pubic bone, and covers legal costs incurred in making applications. The payments are ex-gratia, meaning there will be no admission of wrongdoing.

There has been some criticism of the scheme which was open for applications from November 10th to December 5th. The deadline was extended to January 14th for exceptional cases. The head of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan, wrote to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald last year to express concern about the length of time available to women to make applications and the structure of the scheme. She called for the Government to establish “an independent investigation into symphysiotomy cases and to establish a process whereby perpetrators (including medical personnel) can be prosecuted and punished”.

The scheme has also been heavily criticised by Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS), which has accused the State of “colluding against vulnerable women”.

Chairwoman Marie O’Connor said many members had struggled with applications to the scheme as they were finding it to difficult to access their medical records. A series of Dáil questions tabled last month showed that some hospital records are now in the hands of private security firms.

Ms O’Connor said she believed the scheme was being “rushed through” in an effort to prevent these cases going to court.

However, support group Patient Focus has recommended acceptance of the scheme. The HSE-funded group’s national co-ordinator Sheila O’Connor said “a number of women” had accepted payments and were “very pleased and relieved with the outcome of this scheme”.

Patient Focus says it represents about 200 women, while SoS claims to have a membership of 350. A number of women are thought to be members of both groups. A total of 1,500 women are estimated to have undergone the procedure although many are now dead.