Independent expert to be appointed in Savita review


An independent external expert in obstetrics and gynaecology is to be appointed to the team investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar death, the HSE said tonight.

In a statement, the HSE extended its deepest sympathies to Ms Halappanavar's family and friends.

It said the National Incident Management Team (NIMT) would oversee a review into the circumstances of Ms Halappanavar’s death

"To further strengthen this review the HSE is in the process of appointing an independent, external expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to the incident management team."

"The terms of reference for the review and the members of the review team are currently being finalised. The process of incident review seeks to ascertain the facts relating to the incident, draw conclusions and make recommendations in relation to any steps that may need to be taken to prevent a similar incident occurring again," the statement added.

The NIMT will liaise with Mr Halappanavar as next of kin.

Meanwhile, pro-choice campaigners have called on the Government to legislate for abortion when the mother’s life is at risk, following the death of Savita Halappanavar after she miscarried at University College Galway last month.

Ms Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she presented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st. Her husband Praveen Halappanavar claims she was denied a termination despite asking for one several times following her miscarriage diagnosis because the foetal heartbeat was still present.

She spent two days "in agony" until the foetal heartbeat stopped and surgery was carried out to remove the dead foetus. She died of septicaemia on the 28th.

United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly said the Government’s refusal to legislate for abortion had “contributed to the circumstances” which led to Ms Halappanavar’s death.

“A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life,” Ms Daly said.

“This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable foetus – the woman was having a miscarriage – was given priority over the woman's life.”

Ms Daly said the ULA intended to resubmit a private member’s Bill to legislate for abortion on the basis of the X Case, which the Government voted against in April.

Director of the National Women’s Council Orla O’Connor said Ms Halappanavar’s death was “horrific and needless”, and called on the government to take immediate action to legislate.

“It is simply unacceptable that 20 years after the X Case ruling women and doctors are still waiting for the much needed legal clarity,” she said.

“Savita Halappanavar’s death tragically highlights the urgent need for legislation giving effect to the constitutional right to abortion where the life of the mother is at risk.”

Anti-abortion campaigners have criticised pro-choice groups for “exploiting” the death of Savita Halappanavar to further their own agenda.

Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute said the loss of Ms Halappanavar’s life was not caused by Ireland’s ban on abortion, and it was “very sad to see abortion campaigners rush to exploit this case”.

“We need to ensure that mothers and babies are best protected, and abortion is not part of best medical practice. It is medieval medicine,” she said.

A statement issued by Youth Defence said Ms Halappanavar’s death was a “tragic loss”, but it was important to remember that Irish doctors are always obliged to intervene to save the life of a mother, even if that risks the life of her baby.

“The Medical Council are very clear in this regard that their guidelines state that doctors will be struck off if they don't intervene to save the life of a mother,” the statement said.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen said the death of Ms Halappanavar “should not be used as a wedge by abortion campaigners”.

“In fairness to the medical staff involved, we should await the outcome of the investigations that have been established,” he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil that an independent inquiry into Ms Halappanavar’s death had not been ruled out, but the Government would await the results of two internal investigations, by the hospital and the HSE, before taking further action.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the two internal inquiries “will not suffice” because confidence in maternity hospitals and services was paramount.

Speaking in Cork this morning, Dr Reilly said a Government-appointed expert group on abortion headed by Mr Justice Seán Ryan had submitted its report to the Government yesterday.

The expert group was set up last year to examine the decision of the 2010 European Court of Human Rights in the ABC case, which concluded that abortion would be legal where there was a risk to the life of the woman.

“The report has been a bit delayed but it landed in my department last night,” Dr Reilly said.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to review it and I need to do that carefully before the next moves are made.”

He added that the issue of abortion would be addressed by the Government in order to “give clarity to the medical profession as to when it can intervene and do so within the law”.

Labour Women Chair Sinead Ahern welcomed the news that the report was concluded.

“The Labour Party position on abortion is to legislate for the X Case,” she said.

“The recent European Court of Human Rights ruling obliges Ireland to update its legislation. It is now very clear that this legislation is urgent and necessary.”