Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Doctors at Savita Halappanavar hospital want 'gag order' lifted

Savita Halappanavar died after she suffered a miscarriage in an Irish hospital (The Irish Times/PA)
Savita Halappanavar died after she suffered a miscarriage in an Irish hospital (The Irish Times/PA)

Consultants who faced being gagged at the hospital where Savita Halappanavar died have insisted they have the right to make public comments.

Chief executive of University Hospital Galway Bill Maher and clinical director Dr Pat Nash wrote to consultants in the hospital telling them they must get pre-clearance before speaking publicly.

But now the chief executive and clinical director have been asked to revoke the order.

The Irish Hospital Consultants' Association has written to both senior executives, saying there is no provision in a hospital consultant's contract to check with their employer the content of any comment they want to make to the public.

The letter, from assistant secretary general Donal Duffy, said consultants have an ethical, legal and moral obligation to advocate on behalf of their patients.

A spokesman for Mr Maher and Dr Nash admitted that the letter was recently sent to consultants working for hospitals in the group.

"It reminded consultants that when giving press statements or speaking to the media using their title as a member of staff of the group, that it is essential that permission has been received prior to proceeding, as the organisation has a duty of care to patients and the general public," he said.

"Consultants were also reminded that this request should in no way be considered as a restriction on their right to speak as an individual about any clinical topic."

The matter came to a head after Galway hospital surgeon Sharif Sultan and his colleague Niamh Hynes published a study in which they reviewed research which questioned the role of statin drugs in reducing cholesterol in otherwise healthy people with no heart disease.

They concluded that lifestyle changes were the better treatment, because it meant that patients avoided the potential side effects of statins.

Dr Nash disagreed with the review and insisted that statins were safe.

Mr Sultan was ordered not to speak to the media as an employee of University Hospital Galway, although he defended the study in his capacity as a consultant at the Galway clinic where he has a private practice.

Mr Sultan was among the finalists at the Clinical Innovation Awards 2013. He was selected as a finalist for his work on stem cell treatment of peripheral vascular disease.

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