Lawyers Urge British-based Symphysiotomy Survivors to Come Forward and Apply to Payment Scheme

Irwin Mitchell Criticise ‘Prohibitive’ Time Limits imposed by Payment Scheme


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Specialist international personal injury lawyers are warning Irish ladies now living in Britain, who underwent a symphysiotomy procedure during childbirth in maternity hospitals in the Republic of Ireland, that they need to act fast if they wish to apply to a special compensation scheme that has been announced by the Irish Government.

Ireland’s Department of Health announced the scheme on 06 November 2014 and it opened for applications on 10 November 2014. Whilst the Scheme deadline is currently set for 05 December 2014, in ‘exceptional circumstances,’ applications submitted beyond this date, but by no later than Wednesday 14 January 2015, may be considered at the discretion of the Scheme Assessor.

The symphysiotomy procedure involved breaking a woman’s pelvis during childbirth.  Its use was prevalent in Ireland between 1949 and 1987 but the procedure has since been described as ineffective and inhumane.  Many women underwent the procedure without giving their consent and many have been left with significant pain and disability, impaired mobility, sexual dysfunction and have suffered significant impact upon their marital and family life.  Additionally, in some cases their infant children died or were left brain damaged.

The lack of publicity on Symphysiotomy and the Payment Scheme in Britain, combined with the imposition of a very narrow time limit for applications, has been criticised by expert lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, who have been asked to investigate claims on behalf of women who wrongly underwent symphysiotomy procedures.

Cheryl Palmer-Hughes, a specialist solicitor at Irwin Mitchell working with victims of the procedure, said:

Expert Opinion
“These women have been through a terrible experience and have suffered long term and in some cases permanent problems because of the use of this awful procedure.

“While it is too early to say how effective the scheme will be, we feel that the deadline for applying to this scheme is far too short. Through our work with leading Irish charities in Britain, we have sought to highlight the issue of symphysiotomy and raise awareness within the Irish community.

“However, we are concerned that that the official estimate in Ireland of 350 living survivors may be significantly exceeded. We believe this estimate may not account for many women still living in Britain, many of whom are now elderly and may not have related their significant health problems to a procedure they endured during child birth in Ireland many years ago. In light of the need to assist these women living in Britain, we challenge the Irish Government to abolish the time limits outright or at the very least, significantly extend the time for receipt of applications beyond 5th December 2014.”
Cheryl Palmer-Hughes, Associate

Jennie McShannon, Chief Executive of Irish in Britain, the national representative body for the Irish community in Britain said: “We make an urgent call on Minister Varadkar to postpone this closing date so that there can be better efforts to ensure there is a consistent and concerted effort to raise awareness of the issue and how to access the scheme. Such cruelty dealt to them in childbirth must not be replaced by a glancing effort to provide compensation and close down the matter. The pain and suffering of these woman has never gone away and the government who have taken this welcome step to address the issue must not try and make it go away with such urgency.

“It seems to us that the deadline demonstrates no thought about the many Irish women living here in Britain and further afield who have no access to public information about the Departments compensation scheme and this pending deadline. 

“There are over one hundred and fifteen thousand Irish born women living here in Britain who are aged over 60 years old. Many came here having already given birth in Ireland. As with women still living in Ireland subjected to this procedure, many have lived with chronic physical pain and long term mental health issues from depression to post traumatic stress disorder. Some are only now becoming aware of what happened to them.” 

“We have been working hard to try and raise awareness and the Irish community papers here too have done their best to bring the issue to light and ensure that as many women as possible have access to the information and support they need, including how to apply for compensation but it is not enough.  For many talking about this issue for the first time has been a reliving of the trauma itself. There is insufficient time for them to practically know about the scheme, but more than that they may need some time to come to terms with the realisation that this has happened to them, with the fact that it is now being acknowledged after all these years and many will need some support to talk to their families and appropriate support services before making that application for redress. This is part of the process of whatever healing may be possible for the emotional trauma they have suffered.”