Two families who lost babies in Portlaoise Hospital called on Health Minister Leo Varadkar to launch an investigation into all levels of management in the HSE in relation to the “scandal”.
Mark Molloy, whose son Mark died in January 2012 from the effects of a lack of oxygen, said HSE management is “clearly culpable “ and cannot be trusted to implement the recommendations of the damning Hiqa report on safety stardards at the hospital.
Mr Molloy, his wife Roisin, along with Amy Delahunt and Oliver Kelly who lost their by daughter Mary Kate in Portlaoise made their plea when they gave evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children today.
Both families faced major obstacles in finding out how their babies died, forcing the Molloys to go to RTE’s Prime Time in a bid to get answers.
Mr Molloy said they disagreed with HSE chiefs that the failures to respond to alerts about patient safety risks in Portlaoise over many years were due to ignorance or a lack of escalation to top management.
“There would appear to have been an attempt at both local and national level to suppress repeated red flags , which perpetuated failings leading to repeated deaths and injuries at a huge emotional, physical and financial cost to families and patients,” he added.
Sheila O’ Connor of the patient group Patient Focus said :”Stories of damaged babies and injured mothers in Portlaoise as well as concerns about safety in other units came flooding in to Patient Focus after the RTE Prime Time programmes. Within days we had approx. 180 contacts from worried people and 80 were from the Portlaoise unit.
“Other concerns came from several units throughout the country including Mullingar, Cavan, Portiuncula, Tralee, Letterkenny, Wexford and Sligo. There were serious complaints too about care at the 3 major Dublin maternity hospitals. No hospital escaped. Heart-breaking stories emerged. Some were from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, some more recent and others as recent as the previous weeks.
“All were visceral in the grief expressed at the loss or damage to babies. Within days the Department of Health set up a scoping review of the hospital and concluded that the unit in Portlaoise was unsafe. This caused huge challenges both personal and financial for Patient Focus and its staff.
“Commitments made at the time in terms of increased funding to cover the cost of increased travel etc. have not as yet been honoured. A number of reviews have been established including a HIQA investigation and an internal HSE review into some 200 cases. In some cases individual clinical reviews were established.
“The results of most of these reviews, with the exception of the HIQA investigation, are awaited. We believe these delays are unacceptable. The families here will tell you about the effects of such delays and the energy necessary to obtain a review in the first instance. In Patient Focus we believe when an adverse event occurs an external review of care should be offered immediately by a relevant expert/s. Matters should be explained openly and sympathetically to the people concerned within a month of the occurrence. In the interest of patient safety and learning the HSE can continue to conduct its own reviews.”
HSE chief Tony O Brien and other senior managers will also be grilled at the committee.
Last year was undoubtedly the most difficult for Patient Focus. We spent 2014 speaking to the broken-hearted families of babies who died or were injured in Irish maternity units. Last week, after the publication of the Hiqa report into Portlaoise, the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, wanted to meet them. He wanted to hear what they had to say.