Government Blocks Bill on Maternal Death Inquests


The government has blocked legislation that would have made it automatic that an inquest be held into the death of any woman in a maternity hospital.


Fianna Fáil is threatening to delay key government bills until Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald moves to ensure that maternal deaths are automatically investigated. The justice minister had supported the plans in 2015 after a number of families had to endure lengthy battles with the HSE to secure inquests into the deaths of their relatives during childbirth.


A bill to guarantee inquests for such deaths was brought forward by Independent TD Clare Daly, but it progress was halted at committee stage this week when the government wrote to the Oireachtas justice committee saying the bill would be too expensive to implement.


Jim O’Callaghan, the Fianna Fáil justice spokesman, said he would urge the justice committee to deliberately delay Shane Ross’s judicial appointments bill, which he said the government was anxious to pass.


Deputy O’Callaghan added that he was extremely sceptical of Minister Fitzgerald’s claim that a separate measure making maternal inquests mandatory would be included in a civil law bill published before the summer recess, because it was not clear if the government had started the process of preparing this measure yet.


The Oireachtas cannot pass legislation that would cost taxpayers’ money without permission from the government, and opposition TDs are concerned that this rule is being used regularly to kill off private members bills.


Deputy Daly said she was “gutted” that her bill was being stopped. Families of women who had died in maternity hospitals have been campaigning for the legislation for several years and had secured the support of over 20 county and city councils.


There were eight inquests into maternal deaths between 2008 and 2013, all resulting in a medical misadventure verdict. In many cases, families had to fight for years to secure a hearing.


The State Claims Agency said that maternity services are the source of more court cases against the HSE than any other kind of clinical care. The amount the state spent on legal challenges relating to maternity care in 2014 was €58 million, which was more than half the amount for all clinical care cases.


Between 2010 and 2014, the annual cost of cases against the HSE has increased by nearly 44 per cent, from €74 million to €106 million. The amount spent on maternity cases has increased 80 per cent in the same time period from €32 million to €58 million.

The Times. May 11.

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