Treatment of women who suffer maternal tragedies ‘shameful’

Minister for Health says compensation systems for children injured at birth is ‘adversarial’

The treatment of women who suffer tragedies during childbirth in Irish hospitals is "quite shameful" and "completely unacceptable", Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health, Mr Harris expressed dismay at the lack of support, guidance and information available to women who had experienced complications in such cases.

“The way we treat women and patients in this country when they experience a tragedy in our hospitals is quite shameful,” said the Minister. “We should be collectively ashamed of this.”

Mr Harris called for “open disclosure” and clear answers for women who have negative experiences during childbirth.


“These people want a sense that the system is learning and that this was not going to happen again,” he said.

The minister was responding to a question from Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell regarding the legal process a woman must go through after complications during childbirth and the involvement of both State solicitors and the woman’s own legal team.

“Every gynaecological examination needs to be done by two sets of people,” said Ms O’Connell. “It’s barbaric that a woman has to go in and be examined by two separate sets of medical experts and degraded and demeaned in that way.”

‘Less adversarial’

Mr Harris said he was working with Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to implement “a much less adversarial system”. He said his colleague would bring forward legislation introducing periodic payments for parents of children with disabilities as a result of complications during childbirth.

“Parents don’t want a lump sum, they want the care needs of their child covered for the rest of their life,” said Mr Harris, adding that at the moment the State was funding a system “that benefits the lawyers and not the patients.”

Asked about the efforts being made to retain highly skilled doctors trained by the State in Ireland, Mr Harris said he identified the departure abroad of many Irish medical professionals as "a priority area" and he wanted to enhance medical career pathways.

“People want to do more. We need to make sure everyone in the health service is doing the optimum level of what they’re able to do. That other jurisdictions would offer between career pathways is something we need to grapple with.”

Mr Harris told the Committee that one of the key components of the HSE’s winter initiative to alleviate overcrowding in hospital emergency departments was dealing with delayed discharges.

Citing the latest figure of delayed discharges, the Minister asked why 629 patients were still in hospital when “medically they don’t need to be there?”

Mr Harris also stressed the importance of continued investment in developing technology in the health sector.

“The tendency in this country when people invest in technology is for it to be dismissed,” said Mr Harris, adding that such advancements would greatly assist the HSE in delving into the detail of waiting list numbers and reducing waiting time for patients.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast