'We were urged to go the legal route to stop internal review'
Parents whose babies died in Portlaoise Hospital said they were told by health staff to sue because it meant that all internal reviews would stop.
Ollie Kelly and Amy Delahunt, whose daughter Mary Kate died after she was sent home from Portlaoise Hospital, said they had asked for some disciplinary action to be taken but were more or less told to "go the legal route".
Ollie said: "We were told the circumstances of Mary Kate's death had never happened before."
"It was only when we saw the RTE 'Prime Time' programme on Portlaoise Hospital in early 2014 that we realised we were not the only ones. Lots of other babies died in vain and nobody did anything about it. We were gut-wrenched."
Amy told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that "funds from the HSE's budget are being continually used to employ legal teams and senior counsel to limit inquests" and any learning from mistakes.
She added: "Patients are continually encouraged to go down the litigation route, thus invoking section 48 of the Health Act which states that any matter that is or has been the subject of litigation cannot be investigated by the HSE."
Mark and Roisin Molloy, whose son Mark died within a few minutes of being born, said they made an immediate complaint to hospital management but at "every juncture thereafter we encountered a lack of action and urgency. We continually moved to more senior HSE management levels, first regionally and then nationally."
Mr Molloy detailed their frustrating and exhausting search for answers.
He set out over 30 records of their correspondence with the HSE, followed up by numerous phone calls, relating to Mark's death and serious concerns for other mothers and babies between February 2012 and April 2013.
After the 'Prime Time' programme aired, the Molloys were contacted by Amy and Ollie as well as other families.
"All of the birth outcomes were after our correspondence and meeting with the HSE."
He believed the HSE's strategy was to wear people down and hope they would stop looking for answers.
HSE chief Tony O'Brien told the committee that the experience of the Molloys, who were told they were not automatically entitled to information arising out of Mark's death and would have to secure information through a Freedom of Information request, no longer applies. People who request information are now provided with it, he added.
He said he believed that until there is a mandatory onus on health staff to openly disclose the circumstances of injury and death, there can be no reassurance that others will not face obstacles in getting information.
Asked about the distress caused to families due to the HSE's wrangle with Hiqa over its report on Portlaoise, Mr O'Brien said it was not the HSE's decision to leak details of the row. The HSE had threatened legal action over draft findings.