Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Health Scandal - Symphysiotomy

There are a series of scandals involving the health service which have a particular resonance in County Louth.

The allegations of sexual abuse surrounding Consultant Surgeon Michael Shine in Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda is one which the previous Ministers of Health have failed to deal with properly or humanely.

They have failed to provide the victims with the information and closure they deserve. This blog is hopeful that the new Minister James Reilly will see his way to holding an inquiry into the Shine allegations. It is also a matter of extreme urgency that he restores full funding to the Dignity for Patients Group which campaigns on behalf of victims.

However, another scandal deserving redress is that of women scarred by the medical practice of symphysiotomy.

Symphysiotomy is an 18th century operation performed on women in labour that unhinges the pelvis, splitting the pubic joint and its ligaments with a scalpel knife. Another version of this operation, called pubiotomy, severs the bone rather than the joint. This results in a compound fracture of the pelvis.

At least 1500 Symphysiotomies were carried out on women in the southern state between 1944 and 1984. This was at a time when the rest of the medical profession elsewhere was using caesarean sections.

Patients were rarely asked for their consent and most were never told of the nature of the surgery or its risks, or offered the safer alternative of a caesarean section.

The consequence for the victim of this procedure was often chronic pain, incontinence and a lifetime of medical intervention. One child in ten died.

Increasing age has meant that many of the women who were subjected to this barbarous practice have difficulty walking.

Survivors of Symphysiotomy is a group that has brought together almost 200 women, now mainly in their 60s and older, who have been the victims of this brutal surgery.

This blog has met with them and their accounts of how they were treated in hospital and what was done to them is horrific.

These women want truth. They have looked to a succession of Health Ministers to provide it through the establishment of a full public inquiry.

A promised review of the practice by the Fianna Fáil Health Minister Micheál Máirtín in 2003 was never established.

Health Minister Mary Harney refused to establish an inquiry. She did ask the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to prepare a report concerning the practice of Symphysiotomy in hospitals in the state.

However, this report was not progressed. And in a written reply to my colleague Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin last month the Minister Reilly avoided answering the question about establishing a public inquiry.

The Minister said that he understood that efforts are progressing to put in place alternative arrangements with the assistance of a University of Public Health.

But the Minister hasn’t specified what ‘alternative arrangements’ means? And this is causing concern, especially to the victims.

The hundreds of women grievously hurt physically and emotionally by this practice have not received the help and support they have a right to expect.

In his capacity as opposition Health spokesperson Minister Reilly gave his full support to the victim’s demand for a public inquiry at the Oireachtas Committee Hearing in 2009.

As the Minister of Health he now as the opportunity to accomplish what Micheál Máirtín failed to do and what he asked Minister Harney to do.

I understand that the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group has asked to meet with the Minister and have offered their full co-operation, in an open and dignified manner, for what would be a hugely difficult and emotional experience of telling their stories in public.

In an adjournment debate in the Dáil on Wednesday evening I asked the Minister to meet with the group as quickly as possible and to tell them that he will establish a full Public Inquiry into the practice of Symphysiotomies in Irish hospitals under the care of the state.

1 comment:

Timothy Dougherty said...

Well Gerry , Not a surprise to see you as the new Teachta Dála for the constituency of Louth, moving on issues of Irish human welfare. Women Health Issue, being well set to with a Progressive Sinn Féin Voice. The Progressive Voices, is the premier leadership program serving women in our country . Many other issues that fill the headlines every day and many still in urgency but in darkness and without redress. The Victory on Health Care Reform is another deserving area for progressive voices.
Well Done Gerry,