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Monday 23 October 2017

Health watchdog inquiry expected into abortion case

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan
Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

A second inquiry into the treatment of the vulnerable young woman at the centre of the latest abortion controversy is expected to be launched, the Irish Independent has learned.

The HSE is also coming under increasing pressure to speed up its initial investigation into the care provided to the asylum seeker who asked for an abortion after becoming pregnant through rape.

After the HSE completes its report, Health Minister Leo Varadkar is likely to commission a second inquiry, probably conducted by the health standards watchdog Hiqa.

"The view is a subsequent investigation of some sort is probably more likely than not. It's a strong possibility. Hiqa would be a natural choice for a further inquiry," a senior Government source said.

Hiqa was also in charge of carrying out the investigation into of the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis in University Hospital Galway in October 2012 following a miscarriage when the 31-year-old was 17 weeks pregnant.

The HSE is due to produce its report on the latest controversy around the country's abortion regime by the end of September.

But a Cabinet minister says he wants the HSE to speed up the report into the treatment of the young woman. Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan also said there may be an argument for bringing forward the review of the Protection of Life in Maternity Act, 2013.

Mr Flanagan said he was not in favour of a referendum but suggested the Constitutional Convention examining the issue is an option.

He said there seemed to be a "conflict" around the woman's treatment.

"Before we do anything, it is important the facts be assembled," he said on RTE's Today with Sean O'Rourke.

Mr Flanagan says he wants the HSE report to be completed in a fortnight, so Mr Varadkar can brief the Cabinet.

"I see no reason why we cannot have this in a couple of weeks," he said.

Mr Flanagan said he wanted to see the HSE report on the medical treatment afforded to the woman completed.

"In the first instance what we need to do is assemble all of the facts," he said.

The HSE is not changing the timeframe of its report.

"The HSE has committed to having the report completed at the earliest opportunity. It is anticipated that this will be towards the end of September," a spokesperson said.

Mr Varadkar wanted the HSE to conduct the report and doesn't want the job rushed.

"We want it to be a thorough enough review so that it can be assessed if further action is required. If it could be done sooner, all the better but we don't want corners cut either," a spokesman said.

Mr Varadkar is not ruling out a Hiqa investigation, but wants to see the HSE report first to set out the facts.

"We need to find out what happened. The HSE report is looking into the time lines and the engagement of the woman in question with the services. I want to see the HSE's account of its own actions and oversight before making any decisions about subsequent measures.

"At that stage I will consider in consultation with my Cabinet colleagues, whether an investigation by Hiqa is warranted," he said.

"The facts of this case are still emerging. As we don't know all the facts yet, much of the commentary to date has been unhelpful. I would encourage everyone to wait until we know all the facts before jumping to any conclusions," he added.

The young woman came to the country to escape a conflict in her home country, where saw was raped and members of her family killed.

She moved between two asylum seeker centres at her own request. In her first location, she received abortion and travel information from a family planning clinic.

After months of seeking an abortion, the woman, with limited English, was referred by a GP to hospital for assessment under the Protection of Life In Pregnancy Act, 2013, as he deemed her to be suicidal.

An examination by a panel of three experts at the end of July found she had suicidal thoughts and a decision was taken to terminate the 
pregnancy by delivering the baby.

But there was a delay in the baby being delivered to ensure it would survive as the woman was only 25 weeks pregnant.

In the days running up to the delivery, she was treated with steroids to increase the baby's lung functions.

The baby boy was delivered by caesarean section a fortnight ago. The baby is still in an incubator and is expected to be taken into State care.

Irish Independent

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