Looking through a rose glass but darkly

It’s too easy to retain an innocent and rose coloured view of the Ireland of yesterday, when times were good, men were men and the women stayed at home.

Having spent most of my childhood there, I have some experience of many of the issues that we so studiously avoided at the time. I will look at the Ferns Report at some time in the future, but its important to realise that other vulnerable people were exploited, of whom we’ve heard nothing, and whose voices will be forever silent. There is still a story to be written of the treatment of older people in care facilities in Ireland in the middle of the last century. When I was a ‘ward maid’ in Dublin in a particular facility, I witnessed cruelty and inhumanity on a daily basis against old and vulnerable people that haunts me to this day.

But the one that is still rattling on, and continues to reflect the ability of those in power to exploit is the scandal of Michael Neary at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, in Drogheda.

As a student midwife, I recall so vividly a day that this man was going to do the ward rounds. Well in advance, we were sent around to all the women, whose beds formed a U-shape down the walls and across the bottom. There were probably about 30 or so in the ward, and we had to pull their nightdresses above their ‘bumps’ to their chest, and the sheet down to just below. I remember standing in the doorway and surveying the pink bumps, all sizes and shapes, like so many melons in a row in a field.

Neary entered the ward, with his coterie of medical and nursing students and a great silence fell upon us. He made his way from bed to bed, never speaking except to the Sister, feeling, probing and grunting. About half way down, he came to the bed of a young mother, who broke the stillness and asked ‘Doctor, is my baby alright’.

He stopped and stared at her, spoke in the ear of the Sister and walked to the next bed. Sister turned to the patient and hissed, “You are only a patient, you never, never address Mr Neary to his face”. I left Drogheda after 2 months, deciding midwifery was not my bag.

It wasnt until 1998 that 2 student nurses took the very brave decision to challenge Neary’s behaviour and ask to have his record of caesarian hysterectomies reviewed, due to what they felt was an abnormally high rate of such procedures. http://http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=5111

Neary was suspended by the Irish Medical Council in 1999, and was struck off in 2003. A Public Enquiry was established by the Minsiter of Health in 2004, and the Report was published in February of this year. An apology was issued by the Government in March to the women who were affected, with Bertie Ahern telling them that he was appalled. The Harding Clark Report into the scandal also identified that 44 of the 129 relevant patient charts had gone missing, and the entire issue is being referred to the Gardai.

There are many complex layers of issues in the Neary story. Lack of accountability and training were certainly 2 of the areas identified in the report. The idea of other colleagues not finding it strange for such a shocking level of this procedure being carried out is also one that calls into question the idea of medical solidarity at all cost. The impact of blowing the whistle on such a tale is also going to have to be considered seriously by the powers in Dublin.

But more than anything, it highlights the utter disregard of a Male surgeon for his vulnerable female patients.The arrogance and lack of concern for these women, their lives and their futures make this a disgraceful episode in Irish history.

  • TL

    Thank you MissFitz for blogging on this subject. I myself was delivered by a doctor who planned my birth around his golf Tee time. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. He told my mother he needed to take me at a scheduled time because her last labor was so short and caused him terrible inconvenience. She said she never would have dreamed of questioning him. As a philosopher I am forever pushing the notion of “informed consent”…but we still have a long way to go.

  • sluggerette

    One of the big problems with peri partum hysterectomy was the absence of consent at all, TL.

    Due to my own personal experience, I followed this story very closely, and some of the stories of the women were harrowing. How they found out that they had been involuntarily sterilised and the insensitive manner in which they were treated contributes to the disgrace that this story is

  • West Belfast blog

    Yes the subject does need airing. Clerical abuse hasn’t gone away you know, although at least now they are much more accountable than they were. State facilities in the republic are sorely lacking behind the times, it wasn’t that long ago, a few months, that we had the care homes for the elderly scandal. I used to work in a psychataric care facility in Waterford, run by the church, in which there was not abuse so much as regimental discipline of the mentally retarded. In todays world it would be called abuse.

    Having said that, these scandals have hit Britain and Europe. At least now a days they are much more accountable, and today in the north the care of the mentally retarded is excellent. The care home facilities now, are excellent, as are the respite care facilities provided for their families. New smaller units are opening up, which are excellently run.

    As to the catholic church thankfully most of its caring role, if it can be called that, is now taken over by voluntary organisatiions. The state, (British state) is now I believe going to move in this direction as well.

    As to the birth issue, I had a similar experience to tl’s mother. My son was born by ‘special planned delivery, which in reality meant to suit the holiday arrangements of the hospital staff. That was in 1978. The situation for mothers today who use NHS facilities, has not improved all that much, more, lots more needs to be done to bring things in to line with mainland Europe.

    Thanks for posting about this issue missfitz.

  • TL

    So sad MissFitz that you didn’t become a midwife. You seem to have the qualities of a good one.

  • Harry

    Being subject to the whims of any institution in the south is still fraught with disregard and abuse, whether it’s the crap and exploitative telephone & broadband service ‘provided’ by eircom; access to the law for those who aren’t wealthy; elderly and psychiatric patients in institutions or those availing of medical facilities. The republic is run along gangster lines, in the sense that you must be part of a gang – now called ‘stakeholders’ – to push for your own interests. Those who do not belong to any of these gangs (and there are hundreds of thousands) are depowered and disadvantaged relative to the ‘you-scratch-my-back-i’ll-scratch-yours’ culture that exists in this country.

    Neary should be in jail. The fact that he isn’t and that the state thinks an apology is enough without demolishing those who have done this indicates how far from a real ‘republic’ this country is. This is an abusive country.

  • crataegus

    This is a stark reminder that humanity is morally deeply flawed. You have those who are the central cause, the ones who believe themselves so precious that others are either an inconvenience, or objects to comply with their whim. You then have those who enable it to happen, the one’s who keep their heads down and don’t question for to question may be inconvenient for them. Then you have those in authority, who should act in the interests of us all, who look the other way because uncovering the truth may also be inconvenient to them or those they know or a powerful interest group. It is easiest to take the path of least hassle. Pathetic.

    We should hold whistle blowers in high esteem and those without back bone with contempt. We should make looking the other way more bother than doing what’s right.

    These attitudes stretch right through society, that’s why protection rackets work, that criminal gangs survive, that money in pension funds is invested to benefit those other than the pension holders.

  • joeCanuck

    missfitz

    That is an overwhelming sad and disgusting story.
    Can we be sure that such things are no longer happening?
    I would imagine, knowing my main 3 nieces as well as I do, that they wouldn’t stand such nonsense from such a brute.

    Take care

  • Harry

    As my partner, who is not from this country, has observed, it is as if this country has an aristocracy running it. There are those who are high up and those who are down below; those who are on the inside and those who are on the outside. The very antithesis of a Republic.

    Justice is not done in this country because it is right. It is decided according to the power of the vested interests involved. It is a disgusting situation run for the benefit of quite disgusting people.

  • taigs

    God post, pity about Misfitz’ comments. Ireland still remains a bs riddled country. Anyone know why St James’ Hospital is so called? Maybe Misfitz does. It used to be called St Kevins, the work house, but the scandals of farmers adopting children and working them to the bone, worse than donkeys, forced the change. It was good solid farmers and others doing that, not Catholic clergy. A pity Misfitz was not there to help out. Still we have our refugeees and what not to day for her to extend a helping limb to.

    Neary is “only” a product of a sick society. There are plenty more where he came from. And there probably always will be, unfortunately.

  • Nevin

    MissFitz, arrogance and status come to mind.

    About twenty years ago I nearly died following a burst appendix. The hospital team did an excellent job and I made a full recovery.

    Ward rounds looked like something from an earlier age. The consultant surgeon swept it followed by about six other people in descending order of significance. All went smoothly until the CS asked for some x-ray reports – they weren’t there – CS goes ballistic – prima donna performance – eventually the medical student at the end of the line runs off to retrieve x-ray reports.

    About a decade later a ward sister(?) discharged a relative of mine without going through all of the appropriate procedures. My relative was readmitted shortly afterwards and I let it be known that I’d considered raising the matter with the hospital trust CEO, an old acquaintance of mine. The amount of grovelling that followed was rather embarrassing.

  • sluggerette

    Taigs
    I’ve considered carefully before replying to you, as I wont engage in a play against me personally and cant encourage it.

    However, I am a bit mystified by what you have said. It was a ‘God post’ except for my comments?

    Well, God didnt write it, I did, and how could it have been good if my comments were not?

    Sorry, you’ve lost me there, and I cannot understand what you are getting at.

    As to the provenance of St James, yeah but so what? There were all sorts of behaviours in Victorian times that were outlawed. Hiring fairs, workhouses, all of those practices have been gone for a long time.

    I was very careful not to invoke the clergy in my post, except to mention I would look at the Ferns report in the future. So, why you ‘went off on one’ about that, I also dont know.

    As I said when I began, I was reluctant to respond to you, as you dont appear to be making sense, but I would be happy to respond to any careful argument or criticism on what I wrote.

    One more thing, Taigs, its best to criticise me only where I am posting. Not much point ranting about me on other threads!

  • sluggerette

    Sorry, that should read ‘Behaviours that are now outlawed’

  • Eddie

    “it highlights the utter disregard of a Male surgeon for his vulnerable female patients”

    If u think it is only males that practice this kind of medicine then u are sadly mistaken. Perhaps in Ireland there are not that many female OB physicians but in the states we have plenty. My wife is an L&D nurse and it is no different be the doctor a man or a woman. The idea that the patient comes first is a thing of the past, it is all about the doctors looking out for themselves first.

  • bellamax

    This is unfortunately a generation thing, I had a neighbiur in the sebenties who had an eye gouged out by a doctor’s forceps and a relative who was delivered by an extremely drunk Dr who failed to clean her airways and now has sinus type problems.
    They are nore accountable now although its important that people educate themselves as to the procedures for complaint and with everyone being more litigious nowadays, i think hopefully patients are better off.