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Tuesday 25 June 2019

Probe into Savita shambles goes from bad to worse

Eilish O’Regan and Greg Harkin

A SERIES of events has plunged the HSE probe into the death of Savita Halappanavar further into shambles.

The agency was forced to ask three doctors from Galway University Hospital to step down from the inquiry, and it has now ?emerged the man leading the investi- gation previously helped to write a report advocating abortion.

At the same time, Savita’s husband, in an interview with the Irish Independent, confirmed that he has no intention of co-operating with theHSE investigation.

Praveen Halappanavar spoke after he spent eight hours outlining the details of his wife's death to gardai.

Despite the three Galway-based doctors stepping down, Mr Halappanavar insisted: "I will not be co-operating with the inquiry in any way."

His refusal was the latest in a series of blows which has left the inquiry in disarray.

There were increasing calls for a full public inquiry to replace the HSE probe.

Health chiefs were finally forced to bow to demands for the three consultants to step down from the seven-person inquiry team. It followed a day of intense disbelief that the HSE would have appointed them in the first place to an inquiry of such international attention.

All three were employed by the Galway hospital where Savita died, which sparked fears of a conflict of interest.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said three new experts would be put in place "who have no connection at all with Galway University Hospital. In that sense the investigation will be completely and utterly independent".

But fresh questions have also been raised about the independence of inquiry head Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran.

He's been accused of being pro-abortion after medical literature he co-authored came to light, which advocated a "liberal" approach to abortion.

The report called on countries with restrictive abortion laws to adopt more liberal regimes, citing evidence that it leads to a reduction in maternal illness and death.

The HSE said it was difficult to find any obstetrician who had not expressed a view on pro-life or pro-choice issues, and stressed that his credentials were "beyond reproach".

It said that any previous comments he had made were "irrelevant in that context".

Prof Arulkumaran said he hoped to have a meeting with Mr Halappanavar to persuade him to change his mind about talking to investigators.

He says Mr Halappanavar's testimony on his wife's care would be central to identifying problems. But the grieving husband says that only a full, sworn public inquiry would be acceptable to her family.

His stand came a week after it emerged that Savita (31) died from septicaemia after suffering a miscarriage and being refused a termination.

The case has highlighted Ireland's failure to legislate in line with a two-decade-old Supreme Court judgment that women should receive abortions in cases where the pregnancy places their lives at risk.

Political pressure ramped up last night as Eamon Gilmore was forced into a climbdown on his demand for a speedy government response on the controversial abortion issue.

There will be no decision taken until the new year at the earliest, and there is no timetable for the Government's own Dail debate on abortion.

Health Minister James Reilly will bring the report of the expert group on abortion to Cabinet next week, but will not make any recommendation.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties backed the calls for an independent inquiry.

Director Mark Kelly said: "This remains an internal HSE investigation into the conduct of persons employed by the HSE."

The group said the best way to involve hospital staff was to call them as witnesses, not give them positions on the board.

HSE chief Tony O'Brien said it had made several attempts to make contact with Mr Halappanavar.

"But that has not been made possible at this stage. I understand of course the distress he is undergoing and the difficulty that may be presented to him in making himself available."

Irish Independent

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