Management at Drogheda’s Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital today profoundly apologised to the victims of disgraced doctor Michael Neary.
The former consultant obstetrician carried out 129 hysterectomies between 1974 and 1998 – 20 times the national average. It is also believed that 44 patient files went missing and that the maternity theatre register was doctored in a cover-up bid.
Dr Neary was struck off the medical register in 2003 after he was found guilty of professional misconduct over the unnecessary removal of the wombs of 10 women patients at the Co Louth hospital.
A Government inquiry into the scandal, chaired by Judge Maureen Harding Clark, is to be published later today.
Dr Alf Nicholson, Chairman of the hospital’s medical board, stressed that the workings at the hospital have changed dramatically since an investigation was launched in 1999.
“Today is a very important for the ladies effected, for their families and indeed for the hospital and I suspect the Irish healthcare system,” said Dr Nicholson, a consultant paediatrician.
“I would absolutely and utterly apologise for the hurt that they (the women) have experienced in the past and continue to experience in the present.
“I think the question is how did this continue on for so long and I will be very interested to hear Judge Harding’s view on how it happened for so long.”
Although he still hasn’t yet seen the final report, Dr Nicholson – who began working at the hospital in 1996 – believes the culture in the hospital will be blamed for the cover up.
He continued: “My view is it’s all about a culture within the hospital. The culture that existed pre 1998 was very hierarchical, was very personality driven and related to an unquestioning stance in relation to consultants in general within the obstetrician department in particular.
“The report will be very detailed and will highlight the history of the hospital, the history of the unit, and the current state of the hospital and I know with my discussions with the judge that they will be very much of the mind that the current hospital and the current maternity unit will be quite different than that pertained in 1998.
“This should not have happened and nor should it have continued for such a long time. The reason it continued for such a long time was because there was no audit of any consequences in the maternity unit for that period of time.
In relation to the missing patients files, he feels the matter should be referred to the Gardai and DPP for a thorough investigation.
“We are very distressed about these missing files and I’m sure the women that are affected are even more distressed about them,” he told RTE radio this morning.
“We absolutely and utterly condemn it and the people responsible or person responsible should be subjected to the full rigors of the law.
“I have to stress we work now in the hospital and things have changed dramatically. There now is a very questioning stance, the old and new consultants in the hospital are now engaged in clinical governance, we are all engaged in regular departmental meetings and across departments.
“We absolutely fully acknowledge the past. We profoundly apologise to the women affected, but we have to continue to operate as a very busy maternity unit - the fifth largest in the country – and we will do that to the best of our ability.”
Dr John Hillary, president of the Irish Medical Council, said Dr Neary was removed from practising once sufficient evidence was gathered on his workings.
He said: “We removed Dr Neary from medical practice within 10 days of receiving sufficient evidence to do so in 1999. We first heard about worries about Drogheda in 1998, the council at that time decided to set up a fitness to practice process in regard to Dr Neary and look for more information.
“When that information came the council went to the High Court and had Dr Neary removed for practice immediately and he has not practised since.”
He added that at the end of the process, which was completed in 2003, he was removed from the register for good.
He continued: “Having listened to the stories told by the ladies who came to our enquiry one can only be horrified at what has happened to them and what has come of their lives and I think the medical profession today will reflect on that and as a body feel horrified about what happened to the patients in Drogheda during these years.”
Dr Hillary believes the outcome of the report will urge medical practitioners nationwide to fulfil their ethical obligation to report underperforming colleagues at all levels.