treatment of dentist denied abortion

Savita Halappanavar
Savita Halappanavar
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The widower of an Indian dentist who died after being refused an abortion in an Irish hospital as she miscarried branded his wife’s treatment “barbaric and inhuman”.

An inquest jury yesterday ruled unanimously the death of Savita Halappanavar, 31, was the result of medical misadventure.

Mrs Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when admitted to the University Hospital Galway on October 21 last year with an inevitable miscarriage.

She died from multiple organ failure from septic shock and E coli a week later, four days after she delivered a dead foetus.

Speaking in Galway after the verdict – on what would have been the couple’s fifth anniversary – Praveen Halappanavar said his wife did not benefit from being in hospital until three days after she was admitted, when she was transferred to intensive care.

“It was too late,” he said. “The care she received was in no way different to staying at home.

“Medicine is all about preventing the natural history of the disease and improving the patient’s life and health and look what they did. She was just left there to die.

“We were always kept in the dark. If Savita would have known her life was at risk she would have jumped off the bed, straight to a different hospital. But we were never told.

“It’s horrendous, barbaric and inhuman the way Savita was treated in that hospital.”

The jury at Galway Coroner’s Court deliberated for two hours and 40 minutes after an eight day hearing.

The misadventure verdict found there were systemic failures or deficiencies in Mrs Halappanavar’s care before she died, but coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin warned they did not contribute to her death.

Mr Halappanavar, 34, shook hands with the coroner and jury members at the end of the hearing. The coroner had told him: “The whole of Ireland has followed your story and I want, on their behalf, to offer our deepest sympathy.

“You will also be watched over and protected by the shadow of Savita who was in our thoughts during this painful and difficult journey.”

During seven days of often graphic and upsetting evidence, the jury heard Mrs Halappanavar would probably still be alive if the law in Ireland had allowed an abortion as she miscarried before there was a real risk to her life, by which time it was too late to save her.

The jury endorsed nine recommendations put forward by the coroner designed to protect patients in future.

They included calls for new guidelines from the Irish Medical Council on when doctors can intervene to save the life of a mother; that blood samples are always followed up: a need for proper sepsis management training and guidelines; and that there is effective communication between staff on call and those coming on duty.

There were further recommendations that hospitals have early warning score charts as soon as possible; and for effective communication between patients and relatives to ensure they are fully aware of treatment plans.

And the coroner recommended medical and nursing notes are kept separately and that no additions are made to notes, where the death of a person will be subject to an inquest.

The chief operating officer at University Hospital Galway, Tony Canavan, said afterwards that all the coroner’s recommendations would be adopted.