Tues 9th July 2013
Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS) have decried ‘the underhand approach’ adopted by the Department of Health in relation to dealing with victims of illegal surgery, and have called upon the Government to enter talks on ‘a fair and just settlement for these women who were casualties of a war against family planning conducted by senior obstetricians who carried out operations upon women without their consent’.
SoS Chairperson Marie O’Connor said: ‘recent revelations by two Fine Gael backbenchers reveal a tangled web woven inside the Department of Health. Months have been spent behind closed doors, apparently, seeking to manufacture consent to a ‘redress’ scheme designed to head off potential legal actions by survivors. We do not want our members to be denied access to truth as well as justice.
Were it not for our recent public protest highlighting the long fingering of our Bill lifting the law on limitations for survivors, we would not know today what the State has been crafting for months without our knowledge. Our protest on 26 June outside Leinster House sparked a statement by Deputies Heather Humphreys and Regina Doherty that revealed secret meetings between the Deputies, the Minister for Health and self-styled ‘survivors’ representatives.
An interview on a local radio station revealed that the Walsh Report is due today. Despite the Minister’s promises, this report that, in draft, was widely discredited in the media last year now seems set to be released unseen by the group that represents over 98 per cent of survivors of symphysiotomy.
All the indications are that the Government does not wish survivors to take legal action, that they hope to block survivors from accessing the courts by long-fingering our Private Members’ Bill lifting the law on limitations, and that, instead of enhancing access to the courts, the Government is offering a Magdalen-type redress scheme.
This is a cynical denial of human rights. Firstly, the Statute Bar must be lifted to ensure that all survivors have a right of access to the courts: the Oireachts Justice Committee should deal with this legislation without delay, with or without the Minister.
Secondly, any Magdalen-type scheme is wholly inappropriate to survivors of symphysiotomy. The latter are victims of wrongful surgery that ruined their health in the prime of their lives, surgery carried out on the State’s watch by obstetricians who knew they were at odds with the clinical norms of the time. In addition, survivors of symphysiotomy do not wish to see the multiple defects of that scheme applied to themselves.
Our members have lost faith in a Department that has been said and led by the body whose members carried out these operations, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (IOG). It is difficult to have faith in the outcome of a process of pseudo-consultation, carried on with a tailor-made private company handpicked by the IOG to be the ‘voice’ for survivors, S.O.S. Limited, that incorporates Patient Focus, a small private agency that is a dependent of the Department of Health which presents itself, wrongly, as a separate ‘voice’ for survivors. Both are opaque and unaccountable entities that, between them, speak for less than 2 per cent of survivors.
At an EGM last Sunday attended by over 150 survivors and family members from all parts of the country, SoS decided unanimously that, instead of accepting an imposed scheme – the product of a veneer of consultation – they would instead seek to negotiate a fair and just settlement with the State.
SoS, which represents offer 98 per cent of survivors in Ireland, now repeats its previous offer – made in private and spurned by the Government – to enter into talks on behalf of its members. The parameters of such a settlement lie between €250,000 for those survivors at the lower end of the scale of damages and €450,000 for those most grievously injured.
These levels of restitution reflect our members’ consciousness of the State’s impecuniousness, and represent a significant haircut on recent awards made by the courts over the wrongful performance of symphysiotomy. Around 80 per cent of these operations were done in private hospitals, so the State’s share of this particular abuse bill should be correspondingly proportionate.