Independent midwife Philomena Canning asks to be let ‘die in peace’

Terminally ill midwife sought speedy settlement against HSE to buy anti-cancer drug

Erin Gallagher (8), whose aunt is Philomena Canning, pictured at protest outside the Dáil this week in support of the midwife. Photograph: Tom Honan

Erin Gallagher (8), whose aunt is Philomena Canning, pictured at protest outside the Dáil this week in support of the midwife. Photograph: Tom Honan


Independent midwife Philomena Canning (59), who is seriously ill with terminal cancer, wants now to “die in peace” with the resolution of her case against the HSE.

The pioneering midwife championed the rights of pregnant women to choose home- and non-medicalised births. She was a thorn in the side of obstetrician-led maternity services and the health establishment for over 20 years and is suing the HSE for damages for incorrectly depriving her of her right to work for over three years - effectively ending her career.

In 2014, weeks after she submitted a detailed submission to the HSE to open two home-birth centres in Dublin, her indemnity insurance was withdrawn without notice as two cases concerning alleged risks, involving women she had cared for, had come to the attention of the HSE. Neither of the two women had complained and both were happy with Ms Canning’s care.

Although her indemnity was restored in February 2015 she could not practise until the HSE carried out a systems analysis. Her midwifery practices were exonerated by both her own and independent experts and she was free to return to practise in 2016, but by then, she says she had “lost everything”.

“They took my livelihood, my clients, my reputation, my good name. I had lost everything. I had been a busy mid-wife, enjoying my practise and going about my life and was taken down without fairness or due-process.”

She initiated her damages case in late 2015 and, she says, discovery of documents “had to be dragged and extracted from the HSE”.

Settlement offer

A settlement offer from the HSE was rejected as she wanted the case to go to court, to expose what she believed had been serious injustices against her by the HSE. In the process she has had to sell her home as she could not make mortgage repayments.

Last year she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, believed she had beaten it but by October it had returned and spread to her abdomen.

She knows she will not now get her ‘day in court’ and wants desperately to bring the case to a close.

“My cancer is not responding to chemotherapy. My only hope is immunotherapy.” The immunotherapy drug Pembromizulab, costs up to €8,500 per treatment every three weeks.

She has told her lawyers she will accept the latest HSE offer. Supporters have called on Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to instruct the HSE to settle the case and allow Ms Canning access Pembro and put the case behind her.

“The reality is I am going to die. I have no problem dying. It’s normal. But what is ringing in my ears is ‘rest in peace’. I couldn’t possibly rest in peace, I cannot go to my grave without this resolved.

“They have hounded me, made my life hell since 2014. I just ask now to be able to relax. It’s a simple thing to ask - to go my grave in peace.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The department is aware of the time sensitivity around this case and every effort is being made to expedite the settlement as soon as possible.”

The HSE did not provide a comment.