The parents of a baby who died at Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise have said that a fully independent public enquiry is needed to investigate the deaths of babies at the hospital.
Mark and Roisin Molly’s baby Mark was born in Portlaoise in January 2012 and at the time they were told that the baby was stillborn but pressure from the family forced the hospital to reveal the reason behind his death – a lack of oxygen.
A number of shortcomings in relation to monitoring procedures and the use of syntocin, a drug which can speed up labour but also exacerbate foetal distress, were recently raised in an investigation programme by RTE’s Investigations Unit.
The HSE apologised to the families last week and said it accepted there were serious shortcomings in the cases – as well as unacceptable delays in completing reports.
It also acknowledged that it failed to communicate with families and act on the recommendations of reviews into the deaths. It insisted the deaths were isolated incidents.
“We have very little faith in the HSE after the two years we have spent engaging with them,” Mark said. “There needs to be a public enquiry and it needs to be independent of the HSE”.
“We have made a call for a public enquiry and it is something that should be done quickly,” Roisin added.
Roisin, a native of Kilcavan, and Mark from nearby Tullamore, had no reason to believe that they would not have the same successful outcome at Portlaoise hospital that they did with the births of their first four boys. Living not far away at Castlebrack on the Laois/Offaly border, the hospital is just a short distance away and they anticipated another successful outcome. But tragically, this wasn’t to be the case.
Commenting on their experience with the HSE over two years, Mark said they thought they had been raising issues that they thought weren’t known to the body. “We thought we were highlighting issues that they weren’t aware of. Then two years later we hear that reports were done before and they knew of all of these issues in the past and everything that they put us through over those two years, they knew it all already,” Mark said.
“And it would have prevented Mark’s death,” Roisin said of their baby’s death at the hospital. “It’s a death that’s not natural. There are questions. That compounds it and makes it so much worse. It makes it so difficult to grieve,” Roisin said.
“I spoke to the pathologist after the autopsy,” Mark said. “I was hoping that he was going to say that his little heart or his little brain, something wasn’t right. But when he told me that he was 100 per cent perfect and just died as a result of a lack of oxygen, it’s just very hard to take”.
“There are no words to describe it. We are not resentful, we are not angry. We feel that Mark should be here,” Roisin said. She added that this is not something that they can ever really come to terms with. “We just have to learn to live with it,” she said.
“You would wonder what the motivations were or weren’t of the people who sat on these reports and put them aside and didn’t implement them. How could you do such a thing?” Mark said.
“What I found over the last few years, they do seem to be removed from that. There’s a certain complacency there or maybe they are desensitised to the fact that they are dealing with life or death,” Mark said.
“Losing a baby is bad enough on its own. But then to have it compounded by them slamming doors in your face and sending you down wrong routes and then adopting a defend and deny approach. They seem to have an attrition approach – they think if they wear you down, you will go away,” Mark said.
The couple believe that lessons should have been learned from the past. “They should have come clean after the first baby died in 2006,” Roisin said. “That would have made a difference for us and they would have identified failings...they knew why a baby died in 2006 but they just didn’t implement the recommendations or inform the parents”.
Mark said they didn’t know baby Mark was in trouble until after he was born. They had been in the hospital for over 5 hours at that stage but hadn’t been made aware of any difficulties. A report into baby Mark’s death included 43 recommendations.
Mark said they know that certain steps are going to be taken now. It has been stated that there is no staff embargo affecting staffing issues at the hospital in Portlaoise and previous recommendations that foetal blood monitoring be introduced , has taken place in recent weeks.
However, the couple feel considerable frustration that steps weren’t taken sooner. They also had to spend considerable time raising issues and attending meetings with Roisin describing the process as being like a full-time job. “It has been a massive drain on the family,” Mark said.
“It took a campaign by me and Roisin and Shauna Keyes and Natasha Molyneaux (whose babies also died at the hospital) and an investigation programme from RTE to actually get some action,” Mark said. He added that they had stuck with the HSE’s process of investigation for two years. “After two years, the realisation was we were going nowhere,” he said. At that point they felt they were left with no option but to go public on the issue.
“It’s the next stage in a process to bring about change in Portlaoise hospital,” Roisin said. “The midlands needs a good hospital. We are not calling for the hospital to be closed, we are calling for standards to be raised so it is safe”.
Mark added: “Why should we in the midlands have anything substandard. We should have the same as anything in large cities. We should have equal standards of care as the cities and the major urban areas. We didn’t have it up ”.