Watchdog rejects HSE bid to water down report on Portlaoise Hospital
102 objections in baby death investigation rejected by Hiqa
The country's health watchdog has refused to water down its damning report into patient safety standards at a hospital where five babies died in similar circumstances.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) had threatened to seek an injunction preventing the publication of the report into standards of care at Portlaoise Hospital, claiming some of its findings amounted to "reckless endangerment".
However, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has rejected 102 trenchant and detailed responses from the HSE to its draft report and will today release the final version.
Asked if the report will lead to any resignations, a spokesman for the HSE said last night: "As the HSE has not had sight of the final report and will not until tomorrow, it would be premature to speculate on its contents.
"It would also be particularly imprudent to speculate at this time on any potential impact of the report."
Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who is facing one of his biggest challenges since taking over the portfolio, was last night studying the report ahead of its release. "I read it once but I'm going to read it twice. I always read these reports twice before reacting to them," he said.
The report was ordered by former Health Minister James Reilly, amid mounting concern about patient safety in the Portlaoise maternity unit, after it emerged five babies had died there since 2006 from lack of oxygen after staff failed to properly monitor or identify signs of foetal distress while their mothers were in labour.
Today's report is set to make eight recommendations which will have wide implications for the care of patients in hospitals across the country.
A preliminary Department of Health report last year said the Portlaoise maternity unit was "unsafe" and families and patients were treated in a poor, and at times, appalling manner with limited respect , kindness, courtesy and consideration.
Information about the baby deaths should have been given to families but was withheld for no justifiable reason.
The deaths may have been prevented if the hospital had acted on the lessons from previous adverse events.
The draft Hiqa report, which was circulated in February, led to a furious row with the HSE and had 250 adverse findings, prompting a threat of legal action by the HSE.
It included senior health executives in corporate HSE and cited "passivity" among managers as well as constant changes in HSE structures as contributing to the lack of proper monitoring of standards in the hospital.
The delayed report is also critical of management at regional and local level - and also highlights the decision to row back on a recommendation to "downgrade" Portlaoise in 2011 while failing to provide adequate funding to deliver the level of service expected of it.
The families, who have waited more than a year for the report, were briefed yesterday and are anxiously awaiting the corporate and political response to its worrying findings.
Dr Susan Reilly, chief executive of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, has insisted that Portlaoise Hospital is now safe and that all services will continue to be provided there.
A new manager was appointed and the maternity unit is overseen by the Coombe maternity hospital in Dublin, while extra medical and nursing staff have also been appointed, she added.
Nurses at the annual meeting of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation yesterday said staff on the ground can be "hung out to dry" in critical reports even though they are not in charge.