Widowers urge HSE to learn lesson

Two widowers whose wives died due to maternity service mistakes have urged the HSE to “learn the lessons” of what happened after admitting they still have “worries and concerns” over care standards.

Michael Kivlehan and Sean Rowlette made the comments after a two-hour meeting with Health Minister Leo Varadkar at the HSE’s Dr Steevens Hospital headquarters yesterday.

The pair requested the meeting to explain the impact of their wives’ deaths at Sligo General Hospital, which, despite occurring almost three years apart, involved near identical problems.

The cases, which were the subject of high-profile inquests in recent months, relate to the deaths of Dhara Kivlehan and Sally Rowlette at Sligo General Hospital.

Ms Kivlehan died in September 2010 from a syndrome linked to 10% of pre-eclampsia cases, a condition which normally has a 1% fatality rate if the right medical intervention takes place.

Ms Rowlette died in February 2013 from the same condition at the same hospital. In both cases, there were significant delays in checking vital blood tests, a shortage of on-site specialists, and intensive care bed gaps.

After the meeting with Mr Varadkar, both widowers — who have insisted Ms Rowlette’s death would not have occurred if issues behind Ms Kivlehan’s death were acted on — said they found the two-hour discussion “productive” and welcomed news that an extra consultant obstetrician will be appointed to Sligo General.

However, insisting the HSE must “learn lessons” from the tragedies, they said they still have “worries and concerns” over the quality of care being given to women completely dependent on the maternity system.

Mr Varadkar accepted that the deaths and other recent maternity service scandals are “cause for concern”. However, he insisted Ireland’s system is safe for expectant parents.

“Based on current statistics, maternity services in Ireland are on a par with the rest of the western world. Every year we have more consultants and midwives at a time when birth rates are falling,” he said.

“However, there have been a number of serious cases of medical misadventure in recent years which resulted in maternal and neonatal deaths that might have been avoided, including these two cases.

“This gives me cause for concern as Minister for Health. In 2015 we are developing a new maternity strategy which will map maternity services for the next few decades.”

Government officials have repeatedly insisted services are safe.

However, medical unions say the incidents are linked to the almost €3bn in cuts and the loss of more than 12,000 staff since the recession began.

The latest maternity service-related scandal occurred last week, when it emerged seven newborns suffered oxygen deprivation shortly after birth at Portiuncula Hospital in Galway, including two who subsequently died.

Meanwhile, Mr Kivlehan and Mr Rowlette are to set up a support service in conjunction with the HSE over the coming months for young fathers whose partners have died in the maternity services.

The widowers confirmed the move, which is likely to take the form of a smartphone app, yesterday.

Mr Kivlehan said there needs to be a service showing “young fathers what to expect” in the aftermath of a tragedy occurring, including how to access counselling and other support services.

While stating there is no timetable as yet, he said the HSE have been “supportive” and will provide assistance if needed.

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