HSE and Cork hospital apologise over death of mother and baby

Hse And Cork Hospital Apologise Over Death Of Mother And Baby Hse And Cork Hospital Apologise Over Death Of Mother And Baby
Mother of three Marie Downey was found on the floor of her room in the hospital on the morning of March 25th, 2019
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Olivia Kelleher

The Health Service Executive and Cork University Maternity Hospital have apologised to the husband and family of a 36-year-old woman who died alongside her infant son in a single room onsite.

Mother of three Marie Downey, who lived in Knockanevin near Kildorrery, Co Cork, was found on the floor of her room in the hospital on the morning of March 25th, 2019.

Mrs Downey, who was a native of Ballyagran in Co Limerick, was due to be discharged with her baby, Darragh, in a matter of days.

One avenue of investigation was that she may have had an epileptic seizure while breastfeeding the infant and collapsed on three-day-old Darragh, who was found under her. Marie was pronounced dead at the scene while Darragh died the following evening.

On Monday the inquest into her death opened at Cork Coroners' Court, with much of the day dominated by in-camera legal argument.



On Monday afternoon Conor Halpin SC, for the HSE, read out an apology to the family.

The apology was made on behalf of Prof John Higgins, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and clinical director of Ireland South Women and Infants' Directorate at the South/Southwest Hospital Group.

He said that Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) would like to sincerely apologise to Ms Downey's husband, Kieran, their sons, James and Sean, and to Marie’s parents and family for the events that occurred while Marie and Daragh were under the care of CUMH, “which resulted in the tragic loss of their lives.”

“We cannot possibly comprehend the devastating impact these losses have had on you and your family,” he said.

“We have carefully reviewed the management of Marie’s case along with a formal external review of which you were part.

“We have taken a number of steps with the ultimate aim of ensuring the safety of our patients at all times in CUMH.

“On behalf of all the staff of CUMH especially those who were involved in care of Marie and baby Darragh we are truly sorry and wish to express our deepest sympathies.”

Oonagh McCrann SC, representing obstetrician Prof Keelin O’Donoghue, said her client wished to be associated with the HSE’s apology.


“She would like to express her deepest regret and sadness at the death of the late Mrs Downey and baby Darragh and indeed I would also like on my own behalf, and on behalf of my solicitor Justine Sayers, to express our deepest sympathy for the terrible tragedy.

Concerns and reservations

Dr John O’Mahony SC, on behalf of the Downey family, said they accepted the apology and he thanked the “makers of the apology.” However, he admitted they did so with certain concerns and reservations.

“However, it should be clear that the 'trampassing' of transparency by the HSE is something that we’re all familiar with. It’s such a pity and I have to express the view that transparency has not been visited on this enquiry.”

Doireann O'Mahony, BL, representing the family said that the Downey family had endured a “prolonged grieving process” and that the hearing of the case was supposed to be a “milestone” for them.

She asked that the inquest be adjourned for a particular date.

“The Downey's and the Cullinane's [the family of Marie] have waited two years for this. It was meant to go ahead last November. We don't want another 'for mention' date. This family want answers. They appreciate the apology. They want answers and they want them in a timely manner.”

Cork City Coroner Philip Comyn said that he understood the pain suffered by the family and would do everything in his power to ensure that the case was heard before Christmas.

He added that he was sensitive to their anxiety about hearing the case in as timely a manner as possible.

'Years of pain'

Kieran Downey briefly addressed the court saying that the family had been through “two and half years of pain.”

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Following the tragedy, then Minister for Health Simon Harris ordered an independent review into the deaths, which was carried out by Dr Peter McKenna. Dr McKenna is the head of the HSE Woman and Infant Health Programme.

Following in-camera legal submissions it was deemed that the report was not admissible.

Another review into the deaths was carried out by the HSE South/South West Hospital Group, which includes the CUMH.

The inquest has been listed for mention on September 23rd to fix a date for hearing. A neurological report will also be prepared.

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