The HSE has refused to say why concerns about infant deaths and possible trafficking from Bessborough in Cork and the Tuam Mother and Baby Home were not reported to the then health minister.
The Irish Examiner revealed, in 2015, senior management within the HSE had raised concerns about “shocking” infant mortality rates and possible trafficking of children at both the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home as well as the Tuam home in 2012 — two years before the Tuam babies scandal emerged.
A note of a teleconference call on October 12, 2012, involving then head of the medical intelligence unit, Davida De La Harpe, and then assistant director of Children and Family Service, Phil Garland, revealed management felt what had been discovered in Tuam warranted a state inquiry.
The note concludes by stating, due to the gravity of what was being found, an “early warning letter” be written to the national director of the HSE’s quality and patient safety division, Philip Crowley, suggesting “that this goes all the way up to the minister”.
“It is more important to send this up to the minister as soon as possible... with a view to an inter-departmental committee and a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation, and state inquiry,” the note advised.
A separate unpublished 2012 HSE report into Bessborough Mother and Baby Home had outlined almost 500 children died at the institution over a 19-year period. The figures were obtained from the order’s own death register, handed to the HSE in 2011.
Running to more than 50 pages, the register lists each child’s name, date of death, former residence of the deceased, gender, age at last birthday, profession (which is marked ‘son’ or ’daughter’ in most cases), cause of death, duration of illness, initials of the officer recording the death, and the date when the death was registered.
This Bessborough report was given to two Government departments — Health along with Children and Youth Affairs — and, also, to the McAleese Committee investigating the Magdalene Laundries.
However, despite the severity of the concerns being raised within the HSE and the advice they should go “all the way up to the minister”, this did not happen.
The HSE has declined to answer questions as to why the minister was not informed and who made the decision. It also refused to state who was the most senior HSE official aware of the concerns around Tuam and Bessborough in 2012.
“The HSE is currently liaising with the Commission in relation to the disclosure of all documentation relevant to their work,” it said. “In that regard and in the interest of ensuring that the HSE does not inappropriately encroach upon the work of the Commission, we are providing all relevant materials and documents directly to the Commission at this time.”
Earlier this month, Minister for children Katherine Zappone said it was “a pity” the HSE did not investigate the issues raised in 2012. However, last November she dismissed the 2012 Bessborough report outlining hundreds of infant deaths as “conjecture”, despite the information coming from the Order’s death register.
In March, the commission revealed that “significant” quantities of infant remains were found at the Tuam site. It has yet to examine any other Mother and Baby Home sites.
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