Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Topical Issue Debate
Patient Redress Scheme
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise the issue of compensation for women excluded from the redress scheme of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. All Members, including the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, have acknowledged the appalling wrongs done to the women who suffered altogether unnecessary hysterectomies at the hands of Michael Neary. The redress scheme of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital was rolled out in 2007. It covered most of the victims but, unfortunately, it left 35 women in the cold. These women did not fit into the bureaucratic grid designed for the scheme. The intransigence of former Minister, Mary Harney, meant that calls for the inclusion of these women were met with cold indifference for years, which compounded the injustice they had already suffered. I understand that 29 of these women were excluded on the grounds of age. Women under 40 who had unnecessary bilateral oophorectomies were barred from even applying to the scheme. In one exceptionally harsh case a woman was excluded because the procedure was delayed by one week and, as a result, took place just three days after her 40th birthday.
The voices of these women went unheard for four years until this Government committed to finding a mechanism to compensate those who were excluded from the redress scheme on age grounds alone. Other women have been excluded for reasons other than age, including some who lost children and others who suffered unnecessary gynaecological hysterectomies. These cases have already been raised by the Patient Focus organisation. Last February I was heartened by the Minister for Health when he stated to the House that he was aware of these cases and had given an undertaking to Patient Focus that he would review them. He went on to indicate that the review was already under way. However, I am concerned that five months later there is still no sign of a mechanism to acknowledge the grievous wrongs done to these women, who have already been waiting five years. What was done to these women was shameful. We must not add insult to injury by forcing them to wait any longer for the justice they deserve.
I thank Deputy Nash for raising this issue. I recognise that he feels strongly about it and has raised it in the House on a number of occasions previously. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Health.
The programme for Government commits to finding a mechanism to compensate those women who were excluded on age grounds alone from the Lourdes hospital redress scheme. I am conscious of the distress that has been caused to a number of women and recognise the difficulty the issue has caused to those affected by it. The Government is committed to dealing with the matter sensitively so that, if at all possible, closure can be brought to those affected.
The Lourdes hospital redress scheme was established following the findings and recommendations contained in the report of the Lourdes hospital inquiry into peripartum hysterectomy, which was published in 2006. The inquiry was conducted by Ms Justice Maureen Harding Clark. The inquiry did not extend to a wider examination of Dr. Neary's general practice or the clinical practice of his colleagues. However, during the inquiry Ms Justice Harding Clark became aware of certain patients who underwent bilateral oophorectomy procedures, or the removal of their ovaries, which were not clinically necessary. These women lost their ability to reproduce and suffered immediate surgical menopause.
The scheme of redress approved by the Government was a non-statutory, ex-gratia scheme. Awards were determined in 2007 and 2008 by an independent redress board chaired by Ms Justice Harding Clark. The objective of the scheme was to provide compensation to the patients of Dr. Michael Neary who received unnecessary obstetric hysterectomies, that is, hysterectomies carried out in association with pregnancy, and women under 40 years of age who received unnecessary bilateral oophorectomies. The Department of Health has been engaged in a review aimed at finding a mechanism to compensate those who were excluded from the original redress scheme on age grounds alone. This review involves taking legal and other advice, including from the Office of the Attorney General, on this sensitive issue. I understand that departmental officials have engaged with the Attorney General's office. I am also aware of the recent media reports in respect of High Court litigation where sums have been awarded to plaintiffs against the Medical Missionaries of Mary for incidents that occurred prior to the State taking over the hospital. In this context, I understand that litigation is currently before the courts in respect of two plaintiffs who were patients of Dr. Neary.
I assure the Deputy that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, is committed to finding a mechanism as soon as possible and that he intends bringing proposals to Government for its consideration at the earliest opportunity. I am aware of the sensitivities associated with this issue and understand the importance of finding a solution that will bring closure for all concerned.
I appreciate the Minister of State's response and welcome the commitment in the programme for Government regarding the women who were outside the original scheme. The removal of ovaries and the crude withdrawal of the ability to reproduce is difficult for any woman to accept but it is particularly difficult in cases where such procedures are not clinically necessary. These are challenging circumstances for the women involved, many of whom reside in my constituency. In light of the impact this process has had on the women and their families, I ask the Minister of State to bring a sense of urgency to the matter. I recognise that she understands the sensitivities involved but I do not want the Attorney General to review the issues arising in perpetuity or the views expressed by the Minister and departmental officials to disappear into a black hole in her office. That has happened too often. These women need closure and justice must be done for them and their families.
I assure Deputy Nash that I am conscious of the sensitivities involved and the serious distress that has been caused to these women. There is no question of the issue disappearing. Departmental officials are currently holding discussions with the Attorney General and I reiterate the Minister's commitment to addressing the issue as soon as possible.