Press Release

Consultation with women affected by symphysiotomy to take place and Minister Reilly to meet the representative groups for the women in the coming days

The Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly TD, today (23 July) announced that he briefed Government on his views on putting closure on the issue of symphysiotomy for the women involved and their families. Government has requested some further details from the women themselves in advance of making a final decision on the matter.

The Minister received the independent report of Prof Oonagh Walsh on 31 May and has been considering it closely since then. He and Minister Kathleen Lynch intend to meet the groups representing the women affected next Tuesday to outline his position and the steps required to close out some major issues in advance of publishing the report.

Notes for Editors

Symphysiotomy is a surgical operation to enlarge the size of a woman’s pelvis to facilitate safe delivery during childbirth. The procedure was carried out in Ireland primarily from around the late 1940s to the mid 1960s and it was gradually replaced by caesarean section as the preferred method of delivery in childbirth, where required. However, the available evidence shows that this procedure was carried out in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda until 1984, twenty years after it had ceased being carried out elsewhere in Ireland.

Professor Oonagh Walsh, (independent researcher from University College Cork and now at the Glasgow Caledonian University) was commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health to draft a report in relation to the practice of symphysiotomy in Ireland. The report was formally commissioned in June 2011.

Professor Oonagh Walsh’s report on symphysiotomy was submitted to the Minister on 31 May.

It is estimated that around 1500 women had a symphysiotomy, of whom some 150-224 are still alive. The Department has been working with the HSE and the State Claims Agency (SCA) in preparing an appropriate policy response to this issue.

The Minister is committed to ensuring that the greatest possible supports and services are made available to women who continue to suffer effects of having undergone this procedure. The women concerned continue to receive attention and care through a number of services and pathways of patient care which have been put in place in the HSE and can be accessed by women on request from the HSE symphysiotomy liaison officer.

Services available on request include a full GMS eligibility on medical grounds, independent clinical advice, the organisation of individual pathways of care and the arrangement of appropriate follow-up care such as medical, gynaecological and orthopaedic assessment, counselling, physiotherapy, reflexology, home help, acupuncture, osteopathy and fast tracked hospital appointments where possible. A support group facilitated by a counsellor was set up in Dundalk and Drogheda in 2004 for women living in the north-east region.