Wednesday 23 January 2019

Minister agrees to stay on inquiry into patient safety issues at Holles Street following death of woman

Malak Thawley
Malak Thawley

Aodhan O'Faolain

The National Maternity Hospital (NMH) has secured a stay on an inquiry into patient safety issues which was ordered by the Minister for Health after the death of a woman during surgery for an ectopic pregnancy.

Lawyers for the Minister and the Health Information Quality Authority told the High Court on Friday they were consenting to the stay, to apply pending the outcome of the hospital’s judicial review challenge to the form of inquiry.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, on consent of the sides, put a stay on the inquiry in the terms agreed and fixed the case for hearing in July.

On being told the Minister was anxious the case be speedily heard, the judge said he could hear it in May but the parties had indicated the matter would not be ready for hearing by then.

The hospital secured permission last January to challenge the Minister’s decision ordering HIQA to carry out a statutory investigation into patient safety issues, including the practise of surgery outside core hours and the readiness of hospitals to respond to major emergencies in such circumstances.

The inquiry arose from the death of Malak Thawley (34) at the NMH on May 8 2016.  Her widower Alan Thawley recently settled, on terms compensatory damages, his action against the NMH over her death.  The court was told a doctor who carried out the surgery was an inexperienced junior surgeon and was not supervised.

Earlier this week, Imogen McGrath BL, for the hospital, obtained permission to seek an injunction on Friday halting the inquiry pending the outcome of the judicial review.

However, when the matter returned before the judge today, he was told the sides had agreed on a stay on the inquiry until the judicial review has been decided.

In its judicial review, the NMH claims the Minister acted outside his powers in ordering a new inquiry when three other reports into the death of Ms Thawley had already been compiled by the hospital, the HSE and the coroner.

The hospital says its review resulted in implementation of changes to ensure no recurrence of the Thawley tragedy and the changes were supported by the HSE, the coroner and HIQA.

It argues the Minister fettered his discretion by telling Mr Thawley, whatever about the HSE report, the Minister would still order an inquiry into the matter. This effectively gave a third party discretion as to whether an investigation would be ordered, the hospital says.

A statutory inquiry must be on foot of a specific concern but the Minister irrationally implied it was because the provision of all hospital services outside core hours was unsafe, the NMH says.

In an affidavit, NMH Master Rhona Mahony said the new investigation, under Section 9(2) of the Health Act 2007, will have a chilling effect on the ability of clinicians to delivery high risk and emergency care in an already challenging environment, both at the NMH and nationally.

The NMH is not opposed to a fourth investigation but believes the type of inquiry ordered by the Minister will have serious implications for the hospital's operations and affect public confidence, she said. As an alternative to the proposed inquiry, the NMH has suggested an independent expert body such as the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology UK be appointed to conduct a further investigation.

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