Michael Neary (surgeon)

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Michael Neary is a retired Irish consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist. He gained notoriety when it was discovered that he had performed what was considered an inordinate number of caesarian hysterectomies during his time at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, County Louth. He was suspended by the Irish Medical Council in 1999 pending their investigations, and then struck off the Register of Medical Practitioners in 2003. As a result of the Medical Council's investigation, which discovered a number of alarming aspects to the case, an inquiry was set up in April 2004 by the then Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin to investigate the matter. Their report was made public by the Tánaiste, and Minister for Health Mary Harney in February 2006. The Lourdes Hospital Inquiry report was written by Judge Maureen Harding-Clarke, a prominent Irish judge. She and her team interviewed Dr. Neary himself, most hospital staff in Drogheda and various action groups and patients.

During the inquiry, Judge Harding-Clarke's offices were broken into at least three times, she has said.

Her report repeated many findings of the Medical Council's investigation (which she criticised for taking too long), but delved much deeper into Dr. Neary's actions, and those of his colleagues.

Report findings[edit]

The Inquiry found that Dr. Neary carried out 129 of 188 peripartum hysterectomies carried out in the hospital over a 25-year period, some on very young women of low parity. The average consultant obstetrician carries out 5 or 6 of these operations in their entire career. The judge also found that numerous patient files had disappeared from the hospital, obviously removed by people sympathetic to Michael Neary, she wrote. She was unable to find out who removed the files but believes the person to be female. She criticised the 'Catholic ethos' of the hospital at the time. Sterilisation was forbidden, contraception was unavailable, but she reported that 'secondary' sterilisations were commonly and sympathetically carried out on women who did not want more children but were forbidden to use contraception by the Church. Dr. Neary said this was the main reason he carried out so many hysterectomies. He also said the number in the report was wrong, that it was actually less. The report states that there was a "culture of respect and fear" in the unit so that even when questions were raised, people did not have the opportunity or the courage to speak out. The Inquiry came to the conclusion that Dr. Neary had a "heightened sense of danger" and that his fear of losing a patient approached "phobic dimensions" and led him to practice defensive medicine and carry out hysterectomies when he feared losing a patient. Judge Harding-Clarke wrote that questions should have been asked in the hospital long before 1998, when things first came to light. "The unplanned sterilisation of a young woman, as some of Dr. Neary's patients were, is too high a price to pay for a surgeon's phobias,” states the inquiry report. One anaesthetist appointed to Lourdes in the 90s told the Inquiry that while people who worked with Dr. Neary come out and criticise him now, they "all thought he was wonderful" in 1996. Dr. Neary was seen as a hard-working consultant and was much respected in the area.

In February 2006, when the report was released, the Health Service Executive issued an apology to the women who suffered at the hands of Dr. Neary. The Inquiry found how a senior consultant colleague of Dr. Neary's in the 70s and 80s, now deceased, told a Matron who was questioning the high number of hysterectomies that Dr. Neary was "afraid of haemorrhage". A junior consultant pathologist at the hospital in the early 80s asked his senior colleague why a perinatal uterus specimen he received seemed to have nothing wrong with it. The senior consultant replied "that's Michael Neary for you". Dr. Neary himself told the inquiry that he would have welcomed the opportunity to retrain and to observe other obstetricians at work. During the inquiry, he was asked about the frequent media claims that he hated women, and he replied that this was untrue, that "women were intuitive" and knew when men did not like them.

Judge Harding-Clarke wrote in the inquiry report that it "was hard not to have some sympathy for Dr. Neary". She said: “It was difficult not to have some sympathy for Dr. Neary…his health is no longer strong. He is pilloried in the media and referred to as a 'monster' and a 'mutilator of women'. The effect on his life is profound. He will never practice medicine again, and he will never be given the opportunity to see how and where he got it wrong".

The aftermath[edit]

Michael Neary's actions caused national outrage, shock and even horror. The idea that a well-known and liked (as he was at the time) consultant obstetrician could needlessly remove women's wombs, and get away with it for so long, was shocking in itself, but the delay in discovery and investigation, and numerous other incidents that emerged following the publication of the Lourdes Inquiry, created a media storm and resulted in pages of coverage in newspapers. The women harmed by Dr. Neary came forward and spoke of their distress and how they still wonder why he did it. Represented by the group Patient Focus, they may receive compensation from the State for what happened to them, a matter that is being discussed in the Department of Health. Although much of what is in the Lourdes Inquiry report was already known, the Inquiry brought it to a much wider audience. As a result of the outcry following the publication of the report, the Medical Council pressed to introduce new legislation that would allow them more power to find and stop any doctor who is performing poorly. They also introduced stricter Competence Assurance rules for doctors. The biggest thing to come out of the inquiry, however, was the complaints made against three well respected Dublin obstetricians who in 1998 wrote two reports appearing to clear Dr. Neary of any wrongdoing and defending his treatment of nine women whose wombs he removed.

On Sunday, 31 August 2008, RTÉ 1 aired part one of the two part series Whistleblower based on real events, it outlined one Midwife's concerns with Dr. Neary's practices and ultimately blowing the whistle on his unnecessary hysterectomy procedures.

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