Only 10 victims of brutal birth technique to get full compensation
JUST 10 of the women who endured the brutal childbirth procedure symphysiotomy will qualify for the top compensation payment of €150,000 under the Government's redress scheme.
Although there are 350 women, ranging in age from their mid-forties to 91 years old who will qualify for the scheme, many will only get as little as €50,000, with others who have proven medical complications receiving €100,000.
The maximum sum of €150,000 will given to a handful of women who had a symphysiotomy after a caesarean section, a procedure which doctors insisted was needed to widen the pelvis for future pregnancies.
Symphysiotomy involved breaking the pelvis during childbirth to allow the child to be born – but it left many women with life-long disabilities, difficulty walking, pain and depression.
Launching the €34m redress scheme yesterday, Health Minister James Reilly expressed "profound regret" that the practice had gone on for so long, but that there was no admission of liability on behalf of the State.
"I hope it brings closure to the women involved," he said.
Women who refuse the redress will still be entitled to pursue their cases through court and around 250 have lodged claims.
The scheme has divided the two support groups for the women. While it was "warmly welcomed" by Patient Focus, the Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group who have campaigned longest said they would not be "rail-roaded" into redress.
SOS chairwoman, Marie O'Connor, said the proposal would be discussed at a meeting of members but that they were bitterly disappointed there was no admission of wrongdoing by the government for inflicting the procedure on women from the mid-1940s to the mid-1980s, long after it had stopped in other countries.
She said Dr Reilly had "gone on a solo run", bringing proposals to Cabinet and only giving SOS short notice.
A small number of cases have already been before the courts, with payouts of up to €350,000. A report by Judge Yvonne Murphy – commissioned by the Department of Health – said if hospitals had problems with lack of insurance cover, it could mean they would pay compensation out of their own funds.
If all 250 cases went ahead, with payments of up to €250,000, it would mean a final bill of €68.7m, which would have to be mostly borne by the Exchequer rather than the hospitals.
Judge Murphy said women who took court cases risked the Statute of Limitations being invoked to defeat the claim, because it related to a past event.
A report by Dr Oonagh Walsh, also commissioned by the department, pointed out that symphysiotomy was reintroduced in certain Irish hospitals in the 1940s in response to the legal limitations on contraception, reflecting a Catholic ethos. Its use reflected the fact that in the 1940s and 1950s the safety of repeat caesarean sections was unproven.
Its persistence in Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda until 1984 runs contrary to its decline elsewhere.