Press Release

Judge Yvonne Murphy appointed to advise on just solution for women who underwent symphysiotomy

The Minister for Health Dr James Reilly has today, (Tuesday 26th November 2013) received the approval of the Government to appoint Judge Yvonne Murphy to assist in finding closure for women who have been affected by a symphysiotomy procedure. The Judge will work with key parties; including representatives of the women, the State Claims Agency and insurance companies in proposing a just outcome.

The decision to appoint Judge Murphy comes in the wake of considerable analysis of the factors involved in reaching a resolution, one that must ensure recognition of the trauma and hurt endured by so many. In August Minister Reilly met with a large group of women who had undergone a symphysiotomy. Commenting, the Minister said “I have listened closely to the testimony provided by the women and I cannot help but be moved by their stories. I am determined that their situation will now be addressed having been ignored for so long by previous Governments. The appointment of an independent person of Judge Yvonne Murphy’s calibre will hopefully bring closure for these women for the years of suffering they have endured.” The Minister, assisted by his Department, has considered the report by Prof Oonagh Walsh into symphysiotomy and the Government believes the appointment of Judge Murphy will provide the basis for structuring a solution that can satisfactorily meet the needs of the women concerned.

Having listened closely to the harrowing accounts given by many women affected, the Minister has been struck by the disadvantage incurred by the wide scale absence of key information that would support successful legal action for many of the women. The medical procedures were carried out a long time ago and in certain cases, a very long time ago. In many cases women are unaware of even the identity of the doctor who carried out the procedure and have no documentation related to the event. An analysis of the small number of cases that have been through the court system highlights the risks to a successful outcome and the massive costs involved.

Accordingly the Government has reached the view that the best interests of the women are not served by a move to lift the Statute of Limitations. The Government is fully aware that this decision represents a material change to its earlier position, but it believes the ability to deliver an outcome that provides the widest possible support to the women is enhanced.

Government is keen to ensure that whatever funds are available are directed towards the women who have suffered – and not towards paying legal costs. In this context, Judge Murphy has been asked to engage with insurers with regard to their liabilities in relation to these procedures.

Judge Murphy will provide her independent report to the Minister following consultation with all relevant parties. On receipt of Judge Murphy’s report, the Minister will revert to Government with detailed proposals so that a decision can be taken as soon as possible. At that stage the Walsh Report will be published.

A priority remains to ensure that the women who have had this procedure have their health needs comprehensively and professionally met. In this regard, the HSE provides a range of services to women who may be experiencing any adverse effects as a result of undergoing this procedure. These services include the provision of medical cards for the women, the availability of independent clinical advice, the organisation of individual pathways of care and the arrangement of appropriate follow-up. All these services are available on request from the HSE nominated Symphysiotomy Liaison Officers.

The Minister met representatives of the women today – Patient Focus, Survivors of Symphysiotomy, and Survivors of Symphysiotomy Limited. At the meetings he introduced Judge Murphy to representative bodies and outlined his proposals to them. The Minister asked that a short time more be given so that options for resolving this issue, which will be presented on an independent basis by Judge Murphy, could be considered by Government.


Notes for Editors

Symphysiotomy is a surgical procedure that was used primarily before the advent of safe caesarean sections. The procedure was carried out in Ireland from approximately 1920 until the early 1980s. It was gradually replaced by caesarean section as the preferred method of delivery in childbirth where required. 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 Walsh’s final report on “Symphysiotomy in Ireland, 1944 – 1984” was submitted to the Department in May, 2013.

Terms of Reference for work of Judge Yvonne Murphy in relation to Symphysiotomy

  1. To examine all relevant reports and information relating to symphysiotomy.
  2. To meet women who have undergone surgical symphysiotomy procedures to assess what, in their opinion, would bring closure for them.
  3. To assess, in conjunction with the State Claims Agency (SCA) and other relevant bodies, the relative liabilities of insurers, indemnifiers and/or other parties in relation to cases pending, or which may arise linked to surgical symphysiotomy procedures.
  4. To meet insurers, indemnifiers and/or other parties in relation to such liabilities and to explore and negotiate a quantum representing a fair contribution towards a fund which would form part of an ex-gratia scheme to which Government would also contribute in order to establish an ex-gratia scheme and put closure on the issue for the women involved.
  5. To assess the merits and cost to the State of proceeding with an ex-gratia scheme relative to allowing the court process to proceed.
  6. To report to the Minister within a period of 8 working weeks on the outcome of these deliberations, with recommendations on the next steps.