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Tracey Campbell-Fitzpatrick: why did her maternal death not rock the nation?

On 24th February 2021, after five years of what the family described as being ‘through hell’ the HSE and St. Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, finally admitted liability in the death of Tracey Campbell-Fitzpatrick after the birth of her second child in 2016.

Her family said that she suffered a severe haemorrhage after the birth of her son Max and had bled to death because of a lack of effective intervention. There was also “a delay in the recognition of postpartum haemorrhage, a failure to have appropriate staff in place in time and a failure to transfuse blood in a timely manner”.

Ms Campbell-Fitzpatrick lost 1.2 litres of blood within an hour of delivering her child. Her grieving family say that appropriate action would have prevented an unnecessary death.

The news of the family’s vindication was shared across Irish media on the day, but there was curiously little outcry around this maternal death. There has been little clamour from the media or from the various women’s groups for reform of maternal healthcare in Ireland. There has been little, if any, clamour for reform of the justice system in Ireland that allows for families to be put through five years of hell in the courts in the face of intransigent government opposition.

The father of Ms Campbell-Fitzpatrick stated “The HSE and the hospital have put us through hell for the past five years in our fight for this truth. They have denied the truth, defended the indefensible and delayed the progress of our legal battle every step of the way until finally they were faced with overwhelming evidence they could defend no longer. The truth is all that matters now.”

For a family to take on the apparatus of the state in the search for truth is an almost impossible task. The State is able to use almost unlimited resources at its disposal while a family has to invest – and risk – everything in an effort to find the truth. That the HSE is able to deny the truth for so long, to delay and obstruct in an effort to wear the family down, only to admit liability at the end when it has no other option, is indicative of something rotten in the system.

The HSE apology did not include any contrition for the five years of hell the family was put through. Surely, there ought to be some other sanction to be imposed on the State when it plays this type of game in the courts, seeking to wear down the family and expend their resources, knowing both their energies and their money are finite. There ought to be a sanction of sorts that makes for such a path of obfuscation and obstruction in the courts one that would be unlikely to be followed. Maybe the legal spending allowed by the State ought to be pegged to the amount that the litigants are able to commit.

It is entirely possible that the State spent more defending the case than was eventually awarded to the family. There is a perversity in such a reality. To admit liability after five years admits that those five years were spent ‘defending the indefensible’. To take such a path is surely immoral, whatever the reasons. The State should not be allowed to use asymmetric power in such a manner and then to roll-over once they can no longer hide behind misinformation.

James Campbell rightly noted: “‘The sincerity of an apology can be measured by the willingness to express it, the length of time it takes to decide to give it and the manner in which it is delivered. What we got today was more a reluctant admission of wrongdoing disguised as an apology.” It is clear that the family feels that this is no apology at all, merely the fulfilling of an obligation that cannot be avoided after five years of trying to do just that.

The question also arises: why were there no vigils for Ms Campbell Fitzpatrick? Where were all the women’s groups, celebrities, journalists, who were so vocal only a few years previously upon the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar? Would the family have had to spend five years in the Courts if the HSE was feeling the public pressure that these groups were able to bring to change the law in Ireland and to force a referendum on abortion? Would the HSE have been able to obscure the truth for so long if the spotlight of national media was on them in the same way?

Has there been a single opinion piece by a ‘feminist’ or ‘women’s rights’ journalist or NGO in Ireland in support of Ms Campbell Fitzpatrick’s family, or calling for a reform of maternal health care? A search of the National Women’s Council of Ireland website finds eleven results for Savita, highlighting the importance of her death for them, however a search for Tracey Campbell Fitzpatrick yields no results.

Mr. Campbell informed the listening media: “Tracey died as a result of a massive post-partum haemorrhage that was neglected and mismanaged by the staff members in charge of her care who failed to recognise her developing condition and failed to take appropriate action in a timely manner to prevent her unnecessary death.”

The various inquests into the death of Savita Halappanavar found: a general lack of provision of basic, fundamental care, for example, not following up on blood tests; failure to recognise that she was at risk of clinical deterioration; failure to act or escalate concerns to an appropriately qualified clinician when she was showing the signs of clinical deterioration.

But the safety strategy put in place with the objective of tackling these shortcomings in maternal healthcare after Savita’s death had its funding cut by Simon Harris – to pay for the cost of the new abortion regime.

Why was the tragic loss of one mother so much more important for these people who claim to ‘care’ for women than another? Why was one maternal death worthy of their efforts and not another?

Ms Campbell Fitzpatrick’s father also said: ‘‘It is our hope that the HSE has learned from the horrendous failings in Tracey’s care, to ensure greater patient safety in the Irish maternity services.”

While the full machinations of state and civil society were brought together in the five years to change the law and the Constitution as a result of the death of Savita Halappanvar, the five years since the death of Tracey Campbell-Fitzpatrick saw the full machinations of the State brought to resist the truth, with civil society uneasily quiet as the family bravely fought a lonely, private battle to have that truth made public.



Dualta Roughneen



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