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I can't discipline anyone over baby deaths - Minister


Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar cannot take disciplinary action against any health staff arising out of the damning investigation into deaths of babies at Portlaoise Hospital because it would "expose the taxpayer to major compensation claims".

The investigation by Hiqa laid the blame for poor patient safety at failures by HSE staff at national, regional and local level with warnings going unheeded over many years.

But it is now highly unlikely that any member of HSE staff will be asked to answer for the failure to respond to repeated alerts.

HSE chief Tony O'Brien, whose own resignation has been called for by bereaved parents, announced in a surprise move yesterday that he is to hire an external consultant to tell him who should be held accountable.

"I need to look at how issues escalated to the regional level found their way, only after a very extended period of time, to the national level," he said.

Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent that he cannot have anybody sanctioned because the "excellent" Hiqa report does not name individuals.

"I can't allow a situation to arise whereby someone who did not do their job actually ends up getting a compensation payment because they did not get fair trial, so to speak," he said.

The minister welcomed the commissioning of yet another report by the HSE but said he didn't want it to "drag on for years".

Shocked parents last night expressed their distress at the failure to hold anyone to account.

Roisin Molloy, whose son Mark died in Portlaoise, said it was "arrogant and presumptuous" of the cash-strapped HSE to be now hiring another outside consultant.

"It is time for the minister to step in and take action," said Mrs Molloy, who wrote to Mr O'Brien in 2012 seeking answers on her son's death and warning of the risks to patients in Portlaoise.

"The HSE as an employer surely has a human resources department which has systems at its disposal to put in place a disciplinary process. If it cannot act where life and death is concerned, then when can it act?" she asked.

"It is a tragedy if the findings of the report and the failures it exposed now get lost in some form of spin. There is too much at stake for that to happen."

It is understood that some senior staff who had roles of responsibility, which included oversight of Portlaoise Hospital, have since been promoted.

Asked to respond, Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent: "I believe we need much greater personal accountability in our health service. Doctors, midwives and nurses can be referred to the Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland can sanction them or even strike them off after a full and fair hearing."

He is accepting all of the Hiqa report recommendations but noted that it does not make any findings against any individual and therefore does not form the basis on its own to take disciplinary action against any individual.

"Summary dismissals and discipline do not stand up in court or the employment appeals tribunal and would expose the taxpayer to major compensation claims. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the director is launching an investigation by someone who is external to the HSE. I have made it clear that I want it to happen speedily and not drag on for years."

Irish Independent