Minister says review into Holles Street termination case is warranted; Couple 'devastated' reveals solicitor

Health Minister Simon Harris has said an appropriate external review is warranted into the controversy over a pregnancy termination at the National Maternity Hospital.

The couple at the centre of the case are described as being "utterly devastated" and want an external review, after an abortion took place in March following test results showing a fatal foetal abnormality.

In follow-up results received after the termination, it emerged the unborn baby had no genetic disorder.

Holles Street says it is continuing discussions with the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists regarding investigating the case and cannot comment further.

The couple's solicitor, Caoimhe Haughey, says the couple are still grieving but want to be central to any inquiry.

“They want answers and they must be at the heart of any investigation.”

Reacting to the controversy today the Life Institute has said babies aborted after a misdiagnosis of a severe abnormality must not become "collateral damage" in the rush to establish a new regime after the repeal of the 8th amendment.

Spokeswoman Niamh Uí Bhriain said: "There must be safeguards to ensure families are not rushed into aborting baby, and positive alternatives such as perinatal hospice care must be promoted."

- Additional reporting by Viviene Clarke

Couple at centre of Holles Street termination case 'mentally and physically devastated,' solicitor says

Earlier The solicitor for the couple at the centre of the Holles Street termination case has said that the couple are “utterly, utterly mentally and physically devastated” by what has happened.

“They want answers and they must be at the heart of any investigation,” Caoimhe Haughey told RTE Radio’s News at One.

She said that a genetic expert must form part of the investigation, but that the family is unaware of the terms of reference of the investigation or of who will participate.

The couple wants “answers, the truth and transparency.”

This comes as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Britain has said that it has not yet received a formal approach to undertake a review into the circumstances surrounding the termination of a pregnancy.

The abortion is understood to have been carried out in the NMH in Holles Street in the last few weeks.

A spokesperson for the RCOG disputed initial reports suggesting they were reviewing the case.

"We can confirm the RCOG has not yet received a formal approach to undertake this review. Should an approach be forthcoming, this will be considered in the usual way,” they said in a statement.

Earlier: 'No formal approach' to review termination of pregnancy at NMH, says UK group

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Britain has said that it has not yet received a formal approach to undertake a review into the circumstances surrounding the termination of a pregnancy at the National Maternity Hospital.

A couple were left devastated after aborting their baby because tests showed that it had a fatal foetal abnormality - only for a subsequent test after the abortion to show that it did not.

The abortion is understood to have been carried out in the NMH in Holles Street in the last few weeks.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the NMH said the hospital does not comment on individual cases but said that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Britain “is to review an issue that arose recently”.

However,a spokesperson for the RCOG disputed this today saying: "We can confirm the RCOG has not yet received a formal approach to undertake this review. Should an approach be forthcoming, this will be considered in the usual way.”

Professor Fergal Malone
Professor Fergal Malone

Meanwhile, he Master of the Rotunda maternity hospital Professor Fergal Malone has explained that a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality can be “quite complex to interpret.”

While he did not have the details of the specific case now the subject of an inquiry at Holles Street hospital, Prof Malone said that such diagnoses are very technical.

Speaking on RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show he said that early screening tests are carried out by a blood test and an ultrasound

If there is a query in relation to these tests, then a diagnosis is sought through a CVS test or amniocentesis.

He explained that the CVS test involves placental cells while amniocentesis is carried out directly on the foetus. However, sometimes there can be different genetic readings between cells in the placenta and the foetus.

One of the caveats from the laboratories is that the CVS test should be interpreted in conjunction with an ultrasound, he added.

“When the CVS test is taken two different samples are sent, one for a rapid result which comes back within 48 hours and the other which can take up to two weeks and it is 100%.”

Prof Malone acknowledged that the rapid test can give a false positive. “That’s why it is necessary to look at the total picture. If there is no ultrasound abnormality most laboratories recommend to wait for the full two weeks.

But some patients are not prepared to wait the two weeks and want to continue to termination. Generally, we recommend that they get the total picture.

He said he was aware of one case in the Rotunda where an abnormality was identified in the rapid CVS test, but there was no indication in the ultrasound and when the result came through in two weeks the result was normal.

Different laboratories in the UK have different protocols, but the laboratory with which most Irish hospitals work, have the caveat that action should not be taken on rapid test results unless there is other corroboration.

Prof Malone said he did not think that this case would affect the public’s confidence in the screening and diagnostic service in the country.

Patients should be confident that they will get good advice. It is important to get the total picture.

Since the beginning of this year 500 DNA genetic screening tests using blood samples have been taken at the Rotunda, he said. Women over the age of 35 are at a higher risk of fatal foetal abnormality, Trisomy18, which has led to the rise in such tests, he explained.

"The vast majority come back showing they are unlikely to have that genetic problem. A small number then opt for the CVS test or amniocentesis.”

Prof Malone said that in cases where there is a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality two thirds chose to terminate once the two weeks CVS result has come back, but some opt to let nature take its course.

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