Deirdre’s questions were not answered

A family who received one of Ireland’s biggest ever medical negligence pay outs after a decade-long battle with the HSE have called for a radical overhaul of how injured patients are treated by the system.

Deirdre Courtney made the call a year after she and her family received an €11m no-fault High Court settlement on behalf of their daughter, Brid.

Speaking during the Patients’ Rights, Access to Justice and the Case for Candour conference, Ms Courtney said she was “completely misled” by the system after her daughter suffered serious complications during birth on Feb 24, 2003.

The mother of five, from Ardfert, Co Kerry, said that after Brid was born at Kerry General in Tralee it emerged she had “suffered brain damage and would be severely handicapped”.

The girl, now 10, was soon diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

However, while the family were warned the “damage was dire”, their questions over whether anything had been missed during labour were not adequately answered.

The locum doctor who helped to deliver Brid declined to meet the family.

The obstetrician, who was on holidays, said she may have intervened six hours earlier if she had been involved due to potential medical concerns linked to Brid’s access to oxygen — but soon “diluted that statement” and said “it’s easy to look back”.

Despite a “hostile” meeting with a ward sister over what happened, the family persisted with their fight for Brid’s files, and in late 2006 found out their daughter should have been born via caesarean section due to complications in the labour, but wasn’t.

They wrote to the HSE but received no response. Like countless other patients, they were left “facing a wall of silence”, and took legal action.

Instead of providing the Courtneys with immediate and full disclosure of the facts, Deirdre said her family were forced into a battle with the HSE, which involved countless delays, significant costs to those involved and lasted close to a decade.

Last November, it eventually led to an €11m settlement to pay for Brid’s future supports. However, what the Courtneys really wanted — an apology, an explanation for what happened and a guarantee lessons were learned — remains elusive.

“The State spent their time defending the indefensible. Mistakes happen. I accept that, that’s life. If I knew they discussed what happened and learned from it, I might feel reassured.

“But I don’t know that what happened won’t happen to another child and that’s the hardest thing I have to deal with,” she said, adding people should not have to go down the “expensive, highly stressful” legal route to find out what went wrong.


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