The chief of the Health Services Executive (HSE) in the 26 Counties is under pressure to resign after the latest damning report into patient care at Irish hospitals.
A series of preventable newborn deaths at Midland Regional Hospital, in Portlaoise, was exposed only through the grim determination of five bereaved families. The HSE chief Tony O’Brien sought to prevent a report on the matter being published this week.
Roisin Molloy, whose son Mark died shortly after his birth at the hospital in 2012, said: “I think he should be one of many to resign. We need a complete clear-out and a proper running, functioning HSE.”
Mrs Molloy said the report from health watchdog HIQA demonstrated that senior HSE officials were warned the maternity services at Portlaoise were unsafe but recklessly allowed the situation to continue.
The long-awaited report by the Health Information and Quality Authority said it was “unable to definitively conclude that services at the hospital are safe”, and called on the HSE to immediately address deficiencies in maternity and acute services.
It is heavily critical of all levels of HSE management -- local, regional and national -- and was published only after the HSE director general failed in a legal bid to stop its publication.
Mr O’Brien insisted he would not be resigning. “The bulk of the events, not all of them, happened before I was in my present role.. My view is that the actions I took are the right actions.”
The report alleges women who had lost their babies were told to stop crying and for some, the first sight they had of their dead infant was when their child was squeezed into a metal box which was placed on a wheelchair.
Others were told their baby was stillborn, only to discover in documentation or reports that this was not the case. Parents described a lack of compassion, empathy, dignity and respect.
A member of Hiqa’s investigation team warned similar problems to those highlighted in Portlaoise exist in other units across the State. Prof James Walker, a British obstetrician also involved in investigating the death of pregnant Savita Halappanavar and the deaths of babies in Portiuncula hospital in Ballinasloe, said other maternity units had similar problems because of the lack of a strategy.
He said it was essential that the Department of Health develop a national maternity services strategy for Ireland, originally called for in another Hiqa report in 2013.
Patient safety advocate Margaret Murphy, who was on the investigation team, said: “To err is human, to cover up is unforgivable but to refuse to learn is inexcusable.”
Sinn Fein Health Spokesperson Caoimhghin O Caolain TD praised HIQA for its determination to publish the report.
“It is clear from the report that over a sustained period the HSE at all levels failed to adequately deal with issues relating to clinical governance and management,” he said.
“That this has affected negatively the quality and safety of services in Portlaoise Hospital is an indictment of the HSE, and leaves a dependent public in an even more conflicted position.”