Wednesday 22 August 2018

Comment: Devastating week for women following tragic cases highlighting failings of State institutions

Devastating week for women: (L-R) Vicky Phelan, Elizabeth Loughlin and Fiona Tuomey
Devastating week for women: (L-R) Vicky Phelan, Elizabeth Loughlin and Fiona Tuomey
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Their stories were harrowing, their pain indescribable.

It was a week in which eight Irish women made headlines - more than one tragedy for every day.

Each narrative was different but with one devastating factor in common - each had been let down by the institutions of the State put in place to keep them safe.

As we learned about each case, this week stacked up as a particularly demoralising one for Irish women, now left with the anxious realisation that the safeguards they had assumed would serve them and their families in times of need are, at best, not to be relied upon - at worst, not fit for purpose.

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Rachel Barry, who was raped at a foster home when she was eight, waived her anonymity. Photo: RTÉ

There was Rachel Barry, 'Sarah' and 'Amy'. Three young girls left in the care of a foster family in the assumption that they would be safer there than they would have been at home.

Instead they were placed in the greatest of danger and endured horrific sexual abuse.

Vicky Phelan, a mother of two dragged through the courts in the search for justice because of a misdiagnosis of a smear test and who is now terminally ill as a result.

Elizabeth Loughlin - whose baby daughter died following a caesarean birth and who raised questions seven years later by pure chance, after watching a television programme about the death of four other babies at the same hospital.

Her birth records were allegedly altered and their High Court case was settled.

Roisin Molloy - who was informed that her baby son had been born stillborn but subsequently found out he had lived for 22 minutes after unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him.

The doctor who had delivered the baby was found by a Medical Council hearing to have altered his notes.

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Siobhan Phillips

Siobhán Phillips - who suffered a life-changing brain injury in the same incident that killed Gda Tony Golden, at the hands of her former partner, Adrian Crevan Mackin - a 'monster' who was out on bail at the time.

Fiona Tuomey - whose 11-year-old daughter Milly made a lethal attempt at self-harm on New Year's Day 2016 and died four days later at Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin. Her parents had made an urgent request for access to mental health services but got no immediate help.

Eight women failed by the State in a myriad of ways and in each case bar the Tuomeys, an official apology was given.

But an apology is not enough.

In the case of the three young women who were raped as children by Keith Burke (29) of Addergoolemore, Dunmore, Co Galway, the system failings saw them placed in the gravest of danger.

Placed in the care of Burke's parents, the girls were supposed to be safe - but how did our child care system fail them so badly?

Speaking on 'RTÉ Investigates', Rachel Barry waived her anonymity so that Burke could be named.

The impact on her of what happened has been devastating, she outlined.

"I don't go out, I have no friends, I don't do anything with my life... it's not a life, I'm doing the prison sentence," she said.

The girl known as 'Sarah' has now called for a full independent inquiry through her solicitor, saying the apology by the HSE in no way diminished their determination to secure it.

This should be a 'watershed moment' they said.

Vicky Phelan. Photo: Collins Courts

For Vicky Phelan, given the all-clear in 2011 after a cervical cancer check, the system failing has been catastrophic.

In 2014 she developed symptoms and it emerged that CervicalCheck had not disclosed the findings of a report which showed the error for three years after they knew of it.

The 43-year-old mother of two from Annacotty, Co Limerick, settled her High Court action for €2.5m - but is now terminally ill.

"I was in shock when I was told," she said. "I am angry, extremely angry."

Now it has emerged that 206 women went on to develop cervical cancer after having a misdiagnosed smear test.

The CervicalCheck programme will now be reviewed by experts from another jurisdiction.

For Elizabeth Loughlin and Roisin Molloy, the system tragically failed them at a time in their life when they had been expecting great joy.

Elizabeth and John Loughlin from Lough, Portarlington, Co Laois settled their action against the HSE for nervous shock over the death of their baby Ciara 11 years ago.

The couple had sought to discover what happened to their daughter who died after a caesarean birth at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise.

In an apology read out in court, the HSE offered "sincere apologies for the failings in relation to the care provided and accepted the medical records of Elizabeth Loughlin were altered in relation to the timing of her admission to the hospital on August 21, 2007, and it said it regretted that.

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A visibly upset Roisin Molloy leaves the Medical Council hearing in Dublin after the verdict on the birth of her son Mark. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Roisin Molloy and her husband, Mark, whose baby died due to a lack of oxygen shortly after birth at Portlaoise Hospital on January 24, 2012, fought for years to secure accountability.

But they were left devastated after a doctor involved in the baby's care, was found guilty on two counts of professional misconduct but cleared on five others by the Medical Council.

Ms Molloy called for accountability at managerial level of the HSE.

At the inquest of Garda Tony Golden, the tragedy of the shooting was laid bare. Siobhan Phillips suffered catastrophic injuries at the hands of her former partner Adrian Crevan Mackin.

Her father Séan called for a full public inquiry into the shooting and asked why a full statement hadn't been taken from his daughter when she had been seriously assaulted by Mackin two nights before.

"Mackin was a monster. We want to know why he was out of jail," Sean said.

This week we also heard from Fiona and Tim Tuomey - whose daughter Milly (11) took her own life. They told how she had been let down by the lack of an urgent response from their local mental health services.

On December 8, her GP sent an urgent referral letter to the HSE's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, saying Milly had talked to her mum about self-harm and suicide.

They got no help and on New Year's Day 2016, Milly self-harmed and passed away four days later.

The family said that youth mental health services in Ireland are in need of urgent change, especially in the area of crisis support. "We'll never blame anyone as much as ourselves but we needed help and I don't feel we got it," said Tim.

Failed by the state. Just as they all had been, in a dismal week for national confidence.

Independent News Service

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