Couple reject HSE apology for baby’s death: ‘We’re left with a grave to visit instead of a son to raise’

The parents of a baby who died at Cork University Maternity Hospital have rejected an apology from the HSE and hospital over their son’s death and said it was four years too late.

Baby Alfie O’Reilly from Midleton, Co Cork, was just four days old when he died in his father’s arms at CUMH on July 25, 2020. His parents Amanda and Aidan O’Reilly outside the Four Courts after settling a claim against the HSE over their son’s death, said the impact Alfie’s death has had on them as individuals and as a family is immeasurable.

“As the legal process ends here and the HSE and State Claims Agency can put Alfie’s death behind them, we are forced to look forward and try to remember him for the rest of our lives. We have been left with a grave to visit instead of a son to raise. So much has been taken from us, but Alfie’s whole life has been taken from him and that is what should be remembered. Alfie should be here,” they said in a statement.

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They said their son’s death and their four-year legal battle meant their trust in the health and justice systems had been shattered.

“It is clear that neither we nor Alfie have given any consideration to the HSE or the State Claims Agency, which, given the admission of liability, is insulting. We can only ask them to treat the families and our situation with more dignity in the future,” the O’Reillys added.

In the High Court, the family’s lawyer, Jonathan Kilfeather SC, instructed by Michael Boylan Litigation, said the HSE had admitted liability in the action where it was alleged that a delay in delivering the baby by caesarean section caused or contributed to Alfie’s death.

Amanda and Aidan were in court for the settlement of their action against the HSE over the death of their son. An apology on behalf of Cork University Hospital Maternity Hospital (CUMH) and its staff was read to the High Court by HSE counsel Luan O’Braonain SC.

In the apology letter, “the hospital and its staff expressed their deepest condolences on the death of baby Alfie. They offered an “unreserved and sincere apology for the lapses in care” during the fetal-maternal haemorrhage “which resulted in the death of your son Alfie.”

The hospital said it did not underestimate the trauma the situation had caused the O’Reillys and wanted to acknowledge the lasting impact it had had on them. Amanda O’Reilly told Judge Michael PO Higgins the apology came almost four years too late.

“There was an apology today. Your Honour, it is an apology that we have had to ask for. An apology that is almost four years too late,” she said. She added: “The apology once again attempts to deny responsibility by referring to the fetal-maternal haemorrhage that Alfie suffered. How can an apology regarding responsibility for the death of our child be so insincere?”

She told the judge it was insulting and something she and her husband Aidan could not accept. She added that as well as enduring the grief and trauma of their step-son Alfie’s death, they had been forced to fight a legal battle that lasted almost four years.

She added: “Throughout the legal process, Alfie’s short life and tragic death have not been treated with the dignity they deserved, and this has been incredibly distressing for Aidan and me. “It was clear from the outset that the aim of the HSE and the State Claims Agency was to resolve the matter amicably, but they have unnecessarily prolonged the process in what felt like an attempt to beat us.

She told the judge that Alfie “was absolutely perfect with navy blue eyes and the most perfect little nose”. He was born into a family who already loved him immensely. Alfie, she said, was “so wanted, so adored and we miss him so tragically”. Alfie’s sister Emilia, he said, was also affected by her little brother’s death.

“Emilia was born to be a big sister, she couldn’t wait for him to be born and talked about his absence every day. Emilia includes Alfie in every aspect of her little life and while it’s endearing, it’s also devastating. Our little girl has experienced death at an age where no child should have to live with those consequences for the rest of their life.”

Mr Justice O’Higgins, who noted the settlement and distribution of the €35,000 statutory compensation for psychological distress, said Ms O’Reilly’s remarks were sincere. The judge said he hoped the family would find comfort in the finalisation of the proceedings.

He said it was important that the court and legal practitioners received feedback. Judge O’Higgins said he hoped the settlement of the proceedings would allow the family to gain closure.

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