Massive public outrage following unfair treatment of midwife Philomena Canning

Photo from Philomena court case

Article reprinted by permission from opinion newsblog Put It Like That

A social media frenzy was created this week when supporters of a self-employed community midwife shared their disgust and dismay after the hearing of the Philomena Canning vs HSE court case.  The case was taken by homebirth midwife Philomena Canning to seek an injunction against the HSE restraining them from removing her indemnity cover under its Clinical Indemnity Scheme.   Ms Canning said she refused to accept the HSE could operate “such draconian powers with virtually irreversible reputational effects”.  She claims they have not even followed their own due process to make such a move.

The HSE’s maternity services division flexed its dictatorial muscle two weeks ago suspending Ms Canning’s indemnity cover on the basis of two incidents involving post-delivery transfers to hospital.  Ms Canning insists that she has done no wrong and has followed the rules of the MOU, which is her contract with the HSE.  Both of the mothers at the centre of the incidents have had healthy outcomes to their births and are avid supporters of the midwife and her care.  They too feel she has been unfairly treated by the HSE.  No complaint has ever been made by any of Ms Cannings’s clients,  in her 31 years of practice she has had a 100% safety record.

The Judge noted that the HSE’s evidence was scanty. The HSE said they needed more time to make a full investigation. At the end of the hearing the HSE made an “open offer” to Ms Canning saying they would restore her cover, allowing her to return to work as long as she agreed to be supervised at all times.  After discussing it with her legal representative, Ms Canning declined their offer.  Mr Justice Max Barrett concluded the case by urging the HSE to complete their investigations into the alleged incidents as soon as possible.

It must be clarified here that the word ‘midwife’ in this instance, refers to a Self Employed Community Midwife (SECM).  SECM’s are private birth consultants in their own right. It is a separate profession from the midwives who work in maternity hospitals under obstetric care.   The complaints in the incidents in question were not made by any mother who used Ms Canning’s services or any member of the public, only by hospital consultant obstetricians, who, in business terms, would be regarded as Ms Cannings’s competitors.

Much discussion took place both at the hearing and online afterwards about the inconsistency of the HSE in dealing with such cases.  Hundreds of comments were made on Twitter and Facebook about how differently consultant obstetricians were treated by the HSE when complaints were made against them.   It was rumoured that even the Judge himself made remarks in this regard.  Many expressed shock and horror that a midwife with a 100% safety record for 31 years could be treated in such a way, while in cases such as Savita Halappanavar, Bimbo Onanuga, Kivlehan and the Portlaoise babies, where women and babies had died in maternity hospitals under the care of consultant obstetricians, the HSE had not withdrawn indemnity cover and these doctors were not required to be ‘supervised’ as they continued to practice while investigations were in process.

Since the hearing many TD’s have been contacted by members of the public demanding the situation be rectified immediately.  Outrage was expressed at the HSE’s total disregard for the health and safety of the 25 pregnant women and their babies left without their midwife.   Even the Health Minister, Leo Varadkar  has been called out on the matter, an online petition demanding his immediate intervention has been shared wildly on social networks, gaining over 1,000 signatures in the first couple of hours.

Aside from the health & safety risk to mothers and babies and the irreparable damage to Ms Canning’s professional reputation caused by the HSEs action, many people are now also questioning the HSE’s blatant favouritism towards consultant obstetricians and obstetric-led care despite the proven safety of homebirth and a growing demand for more homebirth and midwifery-led care in Ireland.     The case has been called a ‘A HSE witch hunt’ in an article by Irish online parenting magazine    A full hearing of Ms Canning’s case will take place in a few months time.