Friday 19 January 2018

Watchdog launches official probe into Savita's death

Lyndsey Telford

HEALTH watchdog HIQA has launched a statutory inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar after a miscarriage.

A formal request for a second investigation over Mrs Halappanavar's death in hospital was made by the HSE amid concerns over the independence of its own inquiry.

It came as Labour ministers Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte backed new legislation as the only way to resolve the abortion crisis triggered by Savita’s death.

Her husband, Praveen, is battling the Government to hold a sworn, public inquiry into her death on October 28, which he claims happened after she was denied an abortion as she miscarried.

Mr Halappanavar is considering an application to the European Court of Human Rights to meet his demands for a wider investigation.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) said it "will investigate the safety, quality and standards of services provided by the HSE at University Hospital Galway (UHG) to critically ill patients, including critically ill pregnant women as reflected in the care and treatment provided to Savita Halappanavar".

HIQA decided to carry out its own investigation after examining information from the HSE and the hospital in Galway outlining details of Mrs Halappanavar's death.

The watchdog will publish the terms of reference of its probe and announce the membership of the investigating team when the details are finalised.

In a statement, the authority said it would not comment further on the inquiry until its conclusion.

An HSE investigation into the 31-year-old's death is already under way, but Mr Halappanavar has refused to co-operate, saying he thought it would be biased.

His wife died at the Galway hospital after suffering septicaemia following the miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

Mr Halappanavar claimed she was denied an abortion because a foetal heartbeat was present.

His solicitor, Gerard O'Donnell, said the widower would only be satisfied with an investigation that was held in public, with the cross-examination of witnesses and the full disclosure of all documentation and communication between medical staff involved in his wife's care.

Meanwhile, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), which has supported Mr Halappanavar's call for a public inquiry, said it had doubts that a HIQA investigation would meet requirements listed under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 2 of the convention, which Mr O'Donnell cited as a reason for making an application to the European Court, states that the widower is entitled to an official inquiry which meets a number of legal criteria.

These include the need to establish the cause of death of a patient in the care of the medical profession - both in the public and private sector; identifying any responsibility of doctors or other medical staff concerned and holding them to account; and taking all reasonable steps to secure evidence of the incident - through witness testimonies, forensic evidence, post-mortem reports and an objective analysis of all clinical findings.

Other criteria demand an investigation into the death of a patient be carried out promptly and expeditiously; that it includes a certain amount of public scrutiny; and that the next of kin of the dead person is involved to make sure his interests are met.

ICCL director Mark Kelly said that, while he respected the vigour and professionalism of Hiqa's work, he had concerns about whether an inquiry would satisfy these requirements.

"If this is not the case, Mr Praveen Halappanavar will remain fully entitled to a further inquiry that does effectively discharge the State's responsibilities under the European Convention," said Mr Kelly.

HIQA said it could not comment on suggestions by Mr Kelly that its investigation would lack transparency as it was now bound by legal restrictions.

According to Mr Halappanavar, his wife asked for an abortion on numerous occasions, after being told her baby would not survive.

Her requests for a termination were not included in her medical notes, although staff at the Galway hospital did note that she had asked for tea, toast and a blanket.

Mr Halappanavar said one response to her pleas for an abortion was: "This is a Catholic country."

This exchange was also missing from her file.

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