HSE probe set to go ahead

Savita Halappanavar's husband has reiterated his call for a public inquiry to be held into his wife's death.

He said he believed there could be bias if, as planned, the HSE carried out an investigation, telling RTE's Prime Time he had no confidence in the HSE to run the investigation.

However, at this stage the HSE is pressing ahead with plans for its own probe, with the draft terms of reference now drawn up and new members appointed to the inquiry team.

The Halappanavar family says it will not cooperate with the HSE probe.

Saveen Halappanavar said he wanted a public inquiry funded by the Government. He has said he will not cooperate with the investigation.

His solicitor has indicated that the family may challenge the release of Savita's medical records to the the HSE inquiry and he would consult with the Data Protection Commissioner and take legal action on this if necessary.

The Irish Patients Association has called for the inquiry to be stood down and for the independent health safety body HIQA to undertake an independent probe.

Ther is increasing speculation that the HIQA may now become involved in the case. HIQA says it has received an official response from Galway University Hospital following its request made last week for assurances about the safety of maternity services there.

HIQA said it was now awaiting a response from the HSE to a separate request it had made for information about safety standards.

It said it would consider both responses and then make its views known.

The safety body has statutory powers which would allow it to initiate its own independent inquiry into Ms Halappanavar's death and into maternity care at GUH if it is not satisfied with the safety information it gets from the hospital and the HSE.

Under section 9 of the 2007 Health Act, HIQA can initiate its own independent safety inquiries or can do so at the request of the Minister for Health. It set up an inquiry into Tallaght Hospital's emergency department services last year after it said it failed to receive assurances about the safety of these services.

However, it would be unprecedented and impractical for two parallel inquiries to be held into the same health safety issue, and is likely that the HSE inquiry would have to be stood down if a HIQA probe were to go ahead.

The last public inquiry into a healthcare safety matter was the Lindsay Tribunal in the late 1990s, which looked into the infection of people with haemophilia with HIV and hepatitis C. Many now feel pressure of public opinion could result in a public inquiry eventually being established into Savita Halappanavar's death and maternity care safety in Galway.

Health Minister James Reilly has warned that a public inquiry could be protracted and has thus far favoured the HSE inquiry route. However, both he and the HSE are under increasing pressure over their handling of the Halappanavar case.

President Michael D Higgins has now intervened in the controversy, saying the Savita Halappanavar inquiry must meet the needs of her family as well as those of the State.

However, the inquiry is now set to go ahead without the cooperation or input from the key witness, Mr Halappanavar, and the issue of releasing vital medical records could end up in the courts.

The draft terms of reference for the HSE probe, just published, state that it will:
* Establish the factual circumstances leading up to the incident.
* Identify any key causal factors that may have occurred.
* Identify the contributory factors that caused the key causal factors.
* Recommend actions that will address the contributory factors so that the risk of future harm arising from these factors is eliminated or if this is impossible, is reduced as far as is reasonably practicable.

The terms state that the inquiry team will be afforded the assistance of all relevant staff and other relevant personnel.

They say the inquiry will also have access to all relevant files and records 'subject to any necessary consent/data protection requirements including court applications, where necessary'.

The review is to be concluded in the shortest timeframe necessary to to achieve its aims. Individual hospital or HSE staff will not be mentioned by by name in the report.

According to the terms of reference, 'an anonymised draft report' will be drawn up by the investigation team at the end of the probe,it will be shared with the next of kin and it 'may be published.'

Three new members have been appointed ot the HSE investigation team, to replace the three Galway University Hospital staff who stood down.

These are - Dublin intensive care specialist Dr Brian Marsh, UK obstetrician Prof James Walker and Cork infectious diseases consultant Prof Mary Horgan.

[Posted: Thu 22/11/2012]

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