HSE announces Savita inquiry team replacements


The Health Service Executive (HSE) has announced the identity of three new members of an inquiry panel reviewing the circumstances surrounding the death in Galway last month of Savita Halappanavar..

The announcement was made in the form of a statement issued by the HSE this evening and included a renewed appeal for Mr Halappanavar to meet with the investigation team.

The HSE also outlined the investigation's draft terms of reference as hundreds gathered outside Leinster House to protest over Ms Halappanavar's death. As many was 2,000 people attended the vigil which was addressed by Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and the United Left Alliance's Claire Daly Up to 70 people also protested outside the Irish embassy in Berlin tonight.

The HSE investigation was thrown into turmoil after the HSE on Monday named three Galway hospital consultants on the inquiry panel.

Mr Halappanavar objected to the inclusion on the panel of three employees of the hospital and within 24 hours they had been dropped amid concerns of a conflict of interest. Mr Halappanavar has called for a public inquiry into his wife's death, saying he has "no confidence" in a HSE-sponsored investigation.

The replacements are: Professor James Walker, Professor and honorary consultant of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in St James Hospital in Leeds, Dr Brian Marsh, consultant in Intensive Care Medicine, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and immediate past-Dean, Joint Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine of Ireland and Professor Mary Horgan, Consultant Physician in Cork University Hospital and Professor in the School of Medicine, University College Cork.

The announcement came shortly after President Michael D Higgins said the inquiry must be configured to meet the needs of Ms Halappanavar's family, the needs of the public and the needs of the State.

The investigation must ensure ‘above all else’ that women will be safer and get the medical services during pregnancy to which they are entitled, Mr Higgins said during the first of a three-day official visit to Liverpool and Manchester, accompanied by his wife, Sabina.

Mr Higgins’ comments — the first published since the tragedy became public — came in response to questions from local journalists.

The Irish Constitution and the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights — which ruled that Ireland had violated the rights of a woman who travelled to Britain for an abortion — must be respected, Mr Higgins said.

Earlier, Enda Kenny said Praveen Halappanavar could meet Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran without prejudice to his views or his future feelings towards the investigation.

“Comments attributed to the man in the national newspapers are very different than what I see emanating from the legal team,’’ Mr Kenny added.

He told the Dáil this morning that Mr Halappanavar had said he did not want any person associated with Galway University Hospital involved in the investigation team. “And that will be the case,’’ Mr Kenny said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Minister for Health James Reilly should have had contact with Mr Halappanavar. “And nobody would have cast any aspersions on such contact,’’ he added.

Mr Martin said that if contact had been made, "We might not be where we are now in terms of the progression of this particular issue." Mr Martin said he did not think it was appropriate to be making public appeals to Mr Halappanavar, given the circumstances, and that he was grieving because of the loss of his wife.

Mr Kenny said he believed it was in everybody’s interest that the chairman of the investigation team should have a meeting with the husband of the deceased. “I am not suggesting any manipulation at all, deputy," he added.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the Government’s handling of the matter had been “ill-judged and mismanaged’’.

Mr Halappanavar is seeking a public investigation of the death of his wife, who died of septicaemia seven days after she presented with back pain. She had been 17 weeks pregnant. Her husband says she asked repeatedly for a termination but was refused as a foetal heartbeat was present.

An offer by inquiry chairman, internationally recognised Prof Arulkumaran, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George’s, University of London, of face-to-face talks with Mr Halappanavar to address his concerns was repeated by the HSE tonight.

However, speaking earlier solicitor Gerard O’Donnell dismissed calls for a meeting.

“To do so would be in some way to acquiesce with the investigation or the person appointed by the HSE to investigate,” Mr O’Donnell said.

The legal team has also threatened not to allow access to Mrs Halappanavar’s medical notes and in response to the botched plans for the review panel they demanded a public inquiry with an opportunity to cross-examine medics.

A rights watchdog, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), backed calls for an independent inquiry.

The expert panel chosen by the HSE should have launched its review yesterday.

Dr Reilly and his officials, however, appear determined to proceed with the inquiry despite opposition from her husband and criticism from anti-abortion activists.

Dr Reilly said he had a duty of care to women to ensure there weren’t any unsafe practices in Galway University Hospital and said he wanted the HSE to get on with the investigation as quickly as possible.

Mr Halappanavar told The Irish Times he and Savita’s parents wanted a full public inquiry funded by the Department of Health, not one carried out by the HSE. He said the removal of the three consultants from Galway University Hospital from the inquiry, announced by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil yesterday, was not enough.

“I am not happy with it. They just set up a panel and didn’t consult us at all. I am not happy with the HSE. The HSE are the ones who messed up Savita’s care. Basically I am insisting on a public inquiry.”

He said Ms Halappanavar’s father, Andanappa Yalagi, had called him at 5am yesterday to discuss progress on the inquiry. “They are very anxious to see what’s happening. I said I had to keep the pressure on. I said I was not happy with the panel.”

However, Dr Reilly said a public inquiry would take longer to carry out than the private inquiry currently proposed and the answers to what happened would be “an awful lot” slower to come out.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said today the Government is “open to any ideas” following Mr Halappanavar’s request for a full public inquiry. Mr Howlin said the Government wants an objective, fair and speedy inquiry into what happened, but does not want “a tribunal that goes on for ever more”.

HSE director designate Tony O’Brien said an inquiry needed the full co-operation of the family in order to get to the bottom of what happened. “I must make arrangements for this to proceed,” he told the Oireachtas health committee.

Mr Halappanavar spent eight hours in Oranmore Garda station yesterday giving his statement for the inquest into his wife’s death, likely to be held early next year.

The choice of Prof Arulkumaran to chair the inquiry was criticised last night by the Pro Life Campaign. It said the appointment was “unfortunate and inappropriate”, given “his strong advocacy of very liberal abortion laws.

The Dáil last night began debating a Sinn Féin motion calling on the Government to implement the Supreme Court decision in the X case. A Government counter-motion will commit to the publication of a report on abortion commissioned by Dr Reilly.

Mr Howlin said the Labour Party stance on the issue has been the same since the 1990s. He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that, in the intervening years, a Dáil majority has not existed to approve abortion legislation. “I believe there is a majority in Dáil Éireann to do it now, but we do it in a way that is considered, we have to read and digest and debate the contents of the expert group,” he said.

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