Group says obstetricians need to ‘regain trust’ over symphysiotomies

WOMEN who underwent symphysiotomies in this country have called upon obstetricians to concede the procedures should not have taken place over the past century.

The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group have said the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (IOG) need to regain women’s trust.

Last week, the IOG defended their performing such operations, saying it was a “safer practice” than Caesarean section at the time.

SOS spokeswoman Marie O’Connor said that, on the contrary, “the consequences of this 18th century operation are lifelong” and that the IOG were “disregarding the testimony of mothers” by not conceding the serious long term effects.

“Our members have had problems walking, endured chronic pain and bladder injuries because of this,” she said.

At least 1,500 symphysiotomies were carried out across Ireland from the mid-40s to the mid-80s. The surgery severed the pubic bones, unhinging the pelvis. It is understood that the 18th century procedure was revived at the National Maternity Hospital in 1944 as the alternative, Caesarean sections, could limit pregnancies – something which flew in the face of the Catholic culture of the time. It was also used across the country as a means of training Irish doctors and nurses for overseas postings where such low-cost operations were widely used. Ireland was the only country in the developed world that performed the operation in the 20th century.

A Prime Time investigation into the procedure shocked the country in recent weeks and led to calls for an independent inquiry which Minister for Health Mary Harney has refused.

Last week, the Medical Missionaries of Mary order apologised to women for providing the treatment saying they left clinical decision making up to hospital consultants.

SOS have received calls from Irish women living abroad who believe that they too are suffering long term effects from symphisiotomies that they say were foisted upon them.

Ms Harney has written to the IOG asking them to report back to her on the historical protocols surrounding symphysiotomies and to explain why and when practice changed. The report is to be published next month.

SOS have described it as a “whitewash” and said eight weeks is insufficient time to investigate such a widespread practice.

The IOG has previously recommended that mothers should be given a full explanation for what happened and that their “grievances should be considered sympathetically”.

“The institute fully supports HSE and Department of Health & Children initiatives to assist those who have suffered complications of the procedure,” a recent statement read.

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