Thursday, October 09, 2014

Irish midwife Philomena Canning

This week over 200 mothers, midwives, and other supporters marched to protest the suspension of Irish midwife Philomena Canning's indemnity insurance. Below is a guest post by Susannah Sweetman explaining more about the insurance issue and the status of home birth in Ireland.

Photo from

I am a PhD candidate in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin. My area of research focuses on women's beliefs about birth, and examines the multiple forces that shape contemporary femininity in birth.

I am also a mother of three children, and I am 32 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. My first child was born in hospital, and my second and third children were born at home, with the support of my midwife, Philomena Canning. As of the 12th of September, the Health Service Executive has suspended Philomena's insurance, which has in effect shut down her practice, and has left 25 women without a midwife, 6 or 8 of whom, myself included, are due to give birth before Christmas.

No charges have been brought against her. The cases that are supposedly the catalyst of this suspension involve two women who were transferred to hospital following the births of their babies for precautionary reasons: all were discharged again within hours, and the mothers and babies are well. No complaint has even been made against Philomena in 31 years of practice; the women whose cases are being used against her reject any suggestion that her actions were anything less than entirely professional. Her record is exemplary: in 2012 she was awarded Midwife of the Year in Ireland, which she refused to accept on the grounds that it was sponsored by a formula company.

Only 0.2% of births in Ireland are home births, largely because there is such a lack of support at policy level. All of the international research findings around planned home birth support the view that it is associated with significantly reduced interventions, and no increased risk for perinatal outcomes. In areas where maternity care policy supports home birth provision (parts of the UK, Holland) rates are as high as 30%. The demand amongst women for home births in Ireland is evident in the over-subscription to the small number of home birth services; the continued resistance of the Health Service Executive and Department of Health and Children to support and expand these services in line with the available evidence further illustrates what a recent national report (HIQA, 2013) into the death of Savita Halappanavar described as "an inability to learn from service users' and patients' negative experiences".

There has been a series of scandals within the maternity care services in Ireland over the past number of years, including the Scans Misdiagnosis Scandal, infant deaths in Port Laoise Hospital, the Symphysiotomy Report, and a number of maternal deaths including Savita Halappanavar, Dhara Kivlehan, Bimbo Onanuga, and Tania McCabe. None of the health care providers who have been implicated in these cases have been prevented from continuing to work. On the same day that the High Court application for the reinstatement of Philomena Canning's insurance was refused, the inquest into the death of Dhara Kivlehan concluded that her death was as a result of medical misadventure.

Throughout all of these inquests and investigations into the workings of the HSE and the maternity services it has been found that the underpinning culture is one that does not support accountability, transparency, or communication. Above all, the HSE and successive Ministers for Health have displayed an utter disregard for women and babies by their continuing failure to implement evidence-based care models.

Please sign this petition, it will help to put pressure on the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, and the HSE to reinstate Philomena's insurance and put her back in practice.

Twitter #isupportphilomenacanning

Thank you!

Susannah Sweetman

PhD Candidate
School of Nursing and Midwifery
Trinity College
Dublin 2

1 comment:

  1. I signed the petition. Is it useful to have signatures from the U.S., though?

    Good luck straightening out the care provider situation, Susannah. How stressful to have to worry about that at 32 weeks.


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