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Husband needs to show faith so Savita inquiry not in vain

One can only guess at the nightmare that Praveen Halappanavar is living following the death of his wife Savita.

The weeks since she died after allegedly being refused a termination while in the throes of a miscarriage at Galway University Hospital must seem like a lifetime to Praveen. The sense of loss will remain with him for the rest of his life.

Today, he should be looking forward to becoming a father for the first time and spending a long and happy life with the woman he loved in their newly adopted country of Ireland. Instead, Praveen is grieving and caught up in a messy row over how the independent inquiry into his wife's death should proceed.

It is probably little comfort to Praveen that Savita's death might, just might, result in the Irish political and legal systems finally getting their acts together to take the necessary action. He wants answers as to why his wife was taken from him – and understandably he wants those answers now.

In an effort to establish exactly what happened in the days leading to Savita's death in October, a full and independent inquiry has been ordered – an inquiry that is now mired in controversy before it even gets under way.

Yesterday, Praveen forced the hand of the HSE and won a victory in his battle for answers. After threatening to refuse to co-operate with the independent inquiry into his wife's death if three Galway University Hospital doctors remained on the inquiry team, Taoiseach Enda Kenny intervened and announced that the three were to be stood down.

So far we have only heard Praveen's side of the story. That Savita presented at the hospital with back pain at 17 weeks' pregnancy, and was repeatedly refused a termination over a three-day period as a foetal heartbeat was present.

She died on October 28 of septicaemia, seven days after she was first admitted to hospital.

The HSE acted quickly in getting the inquiry off the ground as swiftly as possible, announcing the members and terms of reference on Monday, just days after the story first became public. The inquiry chairman is Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George's Hospital, University of London, and by all accounts one of the top in his field.

However, Praveen and his lawyer strongly objected to the inclusion of three doctors from Galway University Hospital on the panel – Professor John Morrison, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology; Dr Catherine Fleming, consultant in infectious diseases; and Dr Brian Harte, consultant in anaesthesia and intensive care at the hospital. He threatened not to co-operate with the inquiry if they remained, saying he would not give permission for his wife's medical records to be looked at.

Enda Kenny's intervention is a clear indication of the determination on his part that the matter be dealt with as efficiently as possible. Let's hope that this development is sufficient to reassure Praveen.

It is understandable that Praveen would have been wary of any involvement of Galway doctors in this inquiry, given what happened to his wife at the hospital. But Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran made the point that the Galway consultants had no part in the care of Mrs Halappanavar. He said their inclusion was to benchmark what happens in Galway hospital with other hospitals in Ireland. So before it even gets off the ground the inquiry is in danger of becoming unstuck. It was still not clear last night if Praveen would allow access to his wife's medical records.

There are some indications that the row over the inquiry is still not over. Lawyers for Savita's family have pointed to gaps that they say they find difficult to accept including the fact that evidence won't be taken under oath, that there won't be cross-examination and that there won't be a public hearing.

But now that the HSE has climbed down on the make-up of the panel, let us hope that Praveen's fears have been allayed and that he fully co-operates so that the inquiry goes ahead and he can start getting some answers. Without his help, this inquiry is dead in the water.

Praveen needs to show some faith in the structures established. A doomed inquiry will be another unsatisfactory chapter in this awful story. Praveen's dignity has been remarkable in the face of what has happened to him.

He has a decision to make now which will either make the inquiry meaningful or render it useless. On balance he has more to gain by co-operating even after the shaky start.

Irish Independent