Call for redress scheme to clarify status of symphysiotomy records

Sunday was set as deadline for over 750 survivors to send letters back

Marie O’Connor, chairwoman of  Survivors of Symphysiotomy, outside Leinster House on Tuesday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Marie O’Connor, chairwoman of Survivors of Symphysiotomy, outside Leinster House on Tuesday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

TDs and Senators have called on the State redress scheme for women who have survived symphysiotomy to clarify what is happening to their records.

Representatives of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group and data protection experts met a group of Oireachtas members in Leinster House Tuesday morning. They included independent TDs Clare Daly, Katherine Zappone and Maureen O’Sullivan.

The meeting was also attended by a number of academics and data protection consultants.

The assessor of the scheme, retired judge Maureen Harding Clark, had indicated earlier this year in a notice on its website that she intended to destroy medical and other records if some 750 women who applied to it did not specifically ask for them to be returned.

The terms of reference of the scheme commit it to arranging for the return “where reasonably possible” of any documents submitted by the applicants or their solicitors.

The redress scheme holds documents belonging to nearly 750 women, up to 600 of whom are deemed to have undergone the controversial operation, which involved cutting the pelvic bone during childbirth. It has not yet concluded its work and has yet to make decisions on payments to a number of women.

The assessor posted a notice on the scheme website earlier this year with a link to an ‘options letter’ regarding records and initially asked the applicants to return it by February 29th. The deadline was later extended to last Sunday.

Ms Clark had previously indicated that, in the absence of a decision from the women that they want their records returned, she would shred them.

A new message on the scheme’s website yesterday thanked those who had indicated whether they wanted their documents returned or confidentially shredded. It said when the scheme had completed its work, “it will return or confidentially shred the documentation you furnished to the scheme strictly in accordance with your wishes”.

Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS), which represents more than 350 of the women, says the records may be required for future evidence in possible legal action, or for scrutiny by the UN and at EU level as evidence of human rights abuses.

Speaking outside Leinster House, Ms Daly said a number of Oireachtas members across different parties believed it was “absolutely urgent” that acting Minister for Health Leo Varadkar intervene to clarify what was happening with the documentation.

“We are very concerned that only 222 women have replied to the letters that they have received,” she said.

Ms Daly said there was no clarity, even following communications from the scheme. “For vulnerable women and the human rights abuses at the centre of this, urgent action from the Minister is required.”

SOS chairwoman Marie O’Connor said some women had told her they had been asked verbally what should be done with their records and others had been asked that question while their applications to the scheme were still being processed.

“There is a consent issue here which is very important and very central…and there is a fundamental imbalance of power between the person putting the question and the person who is the claimant to the scheme.”

Data protection consultant Daragh O’Brien, who briefed the TDs and senators at the meeting, said there was a “lack of certainty and a significant level of confusion” about the status of the records was and what the intent of the scheme was. This was not consistent with the principles of transparency and fairness, he said.

The scheme offers three levels of payment, at €50,000, €100,00 and €150,00, depending on the severity of the injuries and documentation submitted. The payments are ex-gratia, meaning there will be no admission of wrongdoing.