Uncertainty continues on Savita inquiry

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

Three consultants from Galway University Hospital have been removed from the HSE inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar.

However, there is still some uncertainty over the future of the inquiry as currently established by the HSE.

While the HSE and the Health Minister are anxious for the inquiry to go ahead, they have still not got the cooperation of Ms Halappanavar's husband, without which the probe would have little credibility. Also, the status of the probe is still coming in for strong criticism.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dail that that no consultants from the Galway Hospital would now form part of the team appointed by the HSE to investigate the circumstances surrounding her death.

Questions had been raised about the appropriateness of having of having three consultants from the hospital where Ms Halappanavar died serving on the inquiry team, which was announced yesterday, and there had been many calls for the inquiry to be seen to be more independent, and not run by the HSE.

Ms Halappanavar's husband, Praveen Halappanavar, had earlier said he had no faith in the HSE inquiry into his wife's death and would not cooperate with it.

Tonight, his solicitor told RTE News that the decision to drop three Galway consultants from the investigation did not change the demand for a sworn public inquiry. He said the family did not want the HSE to be investigating itself.

However, Health Minister James Reilly appears to have ruled out a public inquiry at this stage.

The Chairman of the HSE inquiry team, Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, has sought a face-to-face meeting with Mr Halappanavar. The head of the HSE, Tony O'Brien, has also said he will talk directly with Mr Halappanavar if necessary.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dail the previous inclusion on the panel of three people from the same hospital in which Ms Halappanavar died did not inspire confidence in the investigation.

He called for an independent inquiry into Savita’s death, claiming the HSE inquiry could not be independent.

Mr Kenny said the HSE inquiry would be independent.

Health Minister James Reilly told the Oireachtas Health Committee this evening that he hoped that the inquiry would now be expedited as quickly as possible. He said he hoped it would be completed in a quicker timeframe than three months.

He said the inquiry should not alone be independent but should be seen to be independent. However, a public inquiry would take a lot longer and leave the answers a lot slower to arrive at.

Dr Reilly said if he set up a public inquiry he would not have the power to compel witnesses to cooperate with it, and legislation would have to be passed on this. He said the HSE had the power to compel witnesses under their employment contracts.

The Minister said he wanted insofar as he could to accommodate the wishes and desires of Ms Halappanavar's family, but he also wanted to ensure that the service being provided in Galway was safe.

HSE Director General-designate Tony O'Brien confirmed to the Committee that the HSE was reviewing the membership of the investigation team and the Galway-based membership had stood down in the interests of the inquiry.

He said replacement members of the team in the same areas of expertise would be appointed in due course.

Mr O'Brien said the chair of the inquiry, Prof Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, had sought a meeting with Mr Halappanavar and the HSE was taking into account his concerns.

He said the HSE had had a number of points of contact with Mr Halappanavar's solicitors seeking to have direct contact with him but that had not been possible at this stage. Mr O'Brien said he understood the distress he was was going through at present and the difficulty that may be involved in making himself available.

He said he hoped Mr Halappanavar and his legal team would come to the view that the best course of action would be to make himself available to the chairman. Mr Halappanavar's full cooperation with the review was needed, he said.

Mr O'Brien said if Mr Halappanavar would find it easier to talk directly to him, he would go wherever he had to go to do that.

He said it was a typical protocol for this type of investigation to include members of the staff of the hospital, and the chair had in this instance asked that persons who were not involved in the case but who had knowledge of procedures at the hospital to be included as part of the review.

Mr O'Brien said the HSE was very anxious to get to the bottom of what happened in Galway but it recognised the necessity of getting the full cooperation of the family.

Fianna Fail health spokesperson Billy Kelleher told the Committee that while not seeking to cast aspersions on the calibre of the Galway doctors initially appointed to the team, the decision to appoint them had been regrettable.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has criticised the fact that the inquiry is being organised by the HSE.

Meanwhile Independent Senator Ronan Mullen has called for Prof Arulkumaran to be replaced as chair of the inquiry because of his liberal views on abortion.

In a medical journal article in 2009, Prof Arulkumaran said societies and countries with restrictive abortion laws should look at the evidence in favour of liberal abortion laws and debate the possibility of making the choice of termination of pregnancy a legal right for women.

HSE Savita probe in crisis

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