Bereaved parents' plea for probe into HSE is ruled out
An external investigation into the failure by senior Health Service Executive (HSE) managers and other staff to respond to repeated safety alerts about Portlaoise Hospital, where five babies died, has been ruled out for now, it emerged last night.
Heartbroken parents who lost their babies in the hospital frequently struggled through tears when they made an emotional plea yesterday for an independent probe into all levels of accountability for the tragedies in the HSE.
They gave harrowing testimony and were applauded by members at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. It came in the wake of the damning investigation by health watchdog Hiqa into the hospital.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said last night that a planned HSE-commissioned review will go ahead instead. However, it will be carried out by an expert from overseas.
He added: "We need much greater personal accountability in our health service. The investigation being announced this week will be conducted by an independent expert from overseas and will be done in accordance with the HSE's own disciplinary policy.
"Its outcomes will be binding. I did look explicitly at the possibility of an external review, separate to the HSE process, and I have not ruled out this possibility, but any findings arising from such a review would be ultra vires, would not be binding and could not be enforced. For the time being, it is better to operate within the HSE's own disciplinary structures."
Earlier, Mark and Roisin Molloy, whose baby son Mark died in Portlaoise in January 2012, recalled the obstruction, misinformation and "disdain" they encountered at local, regional and national level in their battle to find out why he died.
Another couple, Amy Delahunt and Ollie Kelly, whose daughter Mary Kate died after she was sent home, broke down in tears. Amy said HSE chief Tony O'Brien needed to stop "misinforming the public" that "these events were before his time in the HSE".
Roisin Molloy said in one face-to-face encounter with senior HSE officials, the grief-stricken parents were treated with "disdain". She added: "They hated us."
Mr O'Brien, who appeared with other HSE managers at a later committee hearing, said cuts in the health budget and staff ceilings "drove many levels of the HSE to become excessively concerned about these issues to the detriment of others".
He did not respond to questions by Renua leader Lucinda Creighton, who asked why he did not think he was accountable. The Molloys wrote to him on a number of occasions in 2012. In November 2012, they warned him: "We are not the only family whose baby died. Yet there seems to be a blatant ignoring of the hospital's obligations to have these deaths investigated."
Labour Senator John Gilroy accused Mr O'Brien of being "overly legalistic and defensive" in his evidence, with more regard to process than explanation of failures. Mr O'Brien's responses were laden with jargon about "sub directorates" that was "designed to obscure rather than enlighten us", he added.
Mr O'Brien insisted resources had to be part of his response. He did not respond to Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher who asked who will set the terms of reference of the review.