Friday 13 December 2019

Woman (83) bringing case over symphysiotomy operation 50 years ago dies

Tim Healy

An 83-year old woman, who had been seeking an early hearing of her legal action over a controversial surgical procedure carried out on her 50 years ago, has died, the High Court heard today.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine said she was sorry to hear of the death of Noreen Burns, particularly in the circumstances where she had been trying to get her case on before the court.

Mrs Burns, from south Dublin, had taken an action against the National Maternity Hospital (NMH), Holles Street, Dublin over a symphysiotomy carried out on her in 1959. 

Earlier this month, her legal team said it had indicated to the hospital  it intended to apply for an early date for hearing.

Ciaran Craven SC said his side was told "in robust terms  in correspondence" that the case was not ready to go on and the NMH would be opposing the action and costs would be sought against Mrs Burns' side.

At that time he said Mrs Burns was in a critical condition in the ICU of Naas General Hospital.

Counsel said since mid June Mrs Burns' health had deteriorated . He said there was an issue around liability in the case and the question had been distilled as to whether a symphysiotomy was warranted after Mrs Burns had a caesarean in 1959.

He said his side was now looking for an early hearing of the case.

Counsel for the NMH, Michael Delaney, said it was clearly a very difficult situation  and there was a "whole array of practical difficulties" in relation to the case. He said the pleadings had been first brought in the case in 2012. There was a substantial issue involving the Statute of Limitations in the case.

Ms Justice Irvine directed the net issue on liability should be conveyed in writing by Mrs Burns' side to the hospital  so it could see if it could organise expert reports on the matter.

In court, Ms Justice Irvine said Mrs Burns' legal team had liberty to apply to the court if there is an application to reconstitute the proceedings (be brought by members of the family, for example).

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