Why exacerbate victims’ agony? - Minister decries ‘shameful’ role

When Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday said that the treatment of women who suffer tragedies during childbirth is “quite shameful” and “completely unacceptable”, he returned to a theme raised by HSE general Tony O’Brien when he addressed an Oireachtas health committee last December.

Mr O’Brien wondered why the State contests medical negligence cases, often stretching over years, that delay compensation, when virtually all of those cases are lost by the State. He also criticised the adversarial framework used to resolve litigation surrounding birth injuries and provide compensation. He also told the Oireachtas health committee that he supported a move to a new kind of system.

At the committee yesterday, Mr Harris expressed his dismay at the lack of support, guidance, or information offered to women who faced complications during the birth of a child.

“The way we treat women and patients ... when they experience a tragedy in our hospitals is quite shameful,” he said. “We should be collectively ashamed of this.”

Both men are right — and we should be ashamed of the endless stream of couples standing on courthouse steps, physically and emotionally exhausted from fighting the very entity that they should have been able to rely on for support at a moment of crisis. Now that the two most powerful figures in Irish health have expressed a unified position it seems rational to anticipate change. Let us hope that is the case.

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