HSE unveils membership of Halappanavar inquiry team


The Health Service Executive  today unveiled details of its inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Ms Halappanavar (31) died of septicaemia at the hospital a week after she had presented miscarrying her 17-week pregnancy. Her husband has said she repeatedly requested a termination over a three-day period but this had been refused on the grounds that Ireland was a “Catholic country” and a foetal heartbeat was still present.

At a press conference this afternoon, the HSE said the investigation will seek to identify any shortcomings that may be identified in the clinical care provided to Ms Halappanavar.

The seven-member investigating team will be chaired by Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George's Hospital, University of London.

The team is made up of a number of experts in the relevant disciplines; including anaesthesia, midwifery, obstetrics and gynaecology. They are Cora McCaughan, head of the executive’s Serious Incident Management Team; Geraldine Keohane, director of midwifery at Cork University Hospital; Dr Catherine Fleming, Infectious Diseases Consultant at Galway University Hospital; Dr Brian Harte, Consultant  in Anaesthetics, Galway University Hospital and Prof John Morrison, Consultant in  Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Galway University Hospital.

It also includes an independent patient representative, Cathriona Molloy of Patient Focus.

The HSE said the team has been in contact with  legal representatives of Ms Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, and “will engage with him as part of the investigation process”.

The draft terms of reference for the inquiry have already been sent to Mr Halappanavar, who has arrived back in Ireland from India and is staying with friends in Galway.

The HSE did not give a timeframe for completion, but said the inquiry “will be completed within an expeditious timeframe”. Interviews will be conducted over the next three days, the HSE said.

The final report will be provided to the HSE’s national director of Quality and Patient Safety, Dr Philip Crowley.

The terms of reference were not been published by the HSE However, Dr Crowley said this evening that the terms were not a "mystery" and that the investigating team would be looking at all of the circumstances surrounding Ms Halappanavar's death.

“My interest is we conduct a fair, thorough and detailed analysis,” he said.

“The process of clinical incident review seeks to ascertain the facts relating to the incident, identify any casual or contributory factors, draw conclusions, and make recommendations in relation to any steps that may need to be taken to prevent, insofar as it’s possible, and reduce the risk of a similar incident occurring again,” the HSE said. “Galway University Hospital has committed to cooperating fully with the team to ensure that this investigation can be completed as quickly as possible."

Minister for Health James Reilly said yesterday a Government decision on providing clarity on abortion was unlikely before the new year. Dr Reilly said he would be bringing the expert groups report on abortion to the Cabinet on Tuesday week but that consultation would be needed before a decision was reached.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton earlier described as “opportunism” tomorrow’s Sinn Féin motion calling on the Government to legislate on the X case.

“I find it hard to see that the motion is helpful at the present time,” he said. "This is really a bit of opportunism and I don’t see it contributing to solving the really difficult and sensitive issues that are here."

The motion will be debated in the Dáil tomorrow. The Coalition is expected to table a counter-motion.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland earlier today, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called on other parties to support the motion. She said the intention was to give the public a clear indication that members of the Oireachtas were prepared to take action and not delay any further on such an important issue.

Mr Bruton said today  the Government was fully aware of the anger and upset over the death of Ms Halappanavar seen during protest marches over the weekend and there was now a commitment by Government to respond to this.

“I think the Government has decided on a strategy which is to bring an expert group to report to Cabinet on Tuesday week to respond and make decisions, appropriate decisions well thought out, robust for the future and I think that is the correct way,” he said.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin yesterday expressed his distress at some of the reaction to the death of Ms Halappanavar.

However, the archbishop challenged assertions that Ireland was not a safe country in which to be pregnant. “The facts show us we have in fact one of the lowest levels of maternal mortality in the world, which means that whatever practices we have are producing the results that we should respect,” he said.

The fact that Ireland had few maternal deaths showed that where conflicts arose over treatment options they have been resolved successfully, he added.

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