Who remembers the Neary case? Michael Neary was an obstetrician in Drogheda who carried out unnecessary Caesarean hysterectomies on many women in his care. Neary treated his patients with contempt and most of the staff lived in fear of him, with the result that almost two hundred women women were mutilated before anybody raised the alarm.
When, eventually, the North-Eastern Health Board ordered an independent review, the case was referred to three of Neary’s peers. He was allowed to personally select the nine cases reviewed and the three experts duly concluded that he should be allowed to return to work, with some restrictions. The Health Board then referred the case to a Manchester-based obstetrician who was horrified by what he saw.
Neary was subsequently struck off the register of medical practitioners by the Medical Council and an inquiry was set up under Judge Maureen Harding-Clarke. The judge’s report reached the same conclusion as the Medical Council, but also went on to explore the deeper reasons behind the abuse. In particular, it mentions the Catholic ethos of the hospital, which was formerly owned by the Medical Missionaries of Mary – a crowd of nuns. It suggests that, as sterilisation and contraception were unavailable due to the lingering influence of the nuns, Neary may have resorted to hysterectomy as a sort of back-door sterilisation. This is only partially correct. Neary mutilated 188 women in all, some in their twenties, and most without permission, so at the very least there’s an element of playing God, which is not an unusual thing among Irish medical consultants.
Bizarrely, Harding-Clarke’s report also mentions the disappearance of many patient files from the hospital, which could only have been removed by a member of staff who knew what to look for. In fact, the judge’s own office was broken into three times during the investigation.
What of the three consultants who thought Neary wasn’t such a bad guy? Well, all three have been found guilty of professional misconduct by the Medical Council, so at last we might be making some progress in this ex-Catholic little country. I might as well list them. They are Professor Walter Prendiville, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, of the Coombe Women’s Hospital, Dr Bernard Stuart, also of the Coombe, and Dr John Murphy, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin 2.
The three boys are said to regret their actions in writing the report, but not as much, I’ll bet, as the 188 damaged women regret entering Neary’s clutches.
Prendiville and Murphy subsequently sought a judicial review of the disciplinary proceedings and the decision of the Fitness to Practise Committee was quashed on the procedural grounds.