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Successive governments have failed patients - Ó Caoláin

15 November, 2006

Speaking in support of an Opposition motion to the Dáil calling for the establishment of a patient safety authority, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD attacked the over-centralisation of hospital services and described the Lea’s Cross report as ‘a further damning indictment of successive governments and Health Board/Health Service Executive bureaucracies who presided over a system which allowed the old and the vulnerable to be disgracefully treated in nursing homes’.   


The Cavan-Monaghan TD said: “Ar son Teachtaí Shinn Féin ba mhaith liom tacú leis an rún in ainm na dTeachtaí Fhine Gael agus Lucht Oibre.


“This is a timely motion as it comes in the wake of the report of Professor Des O’Neill on the scandalous neglect of vulnerable people in the Leas Cross nursing home.


“The publication of that Report was a further damning indictment of successive governments and Health Board/Health Service Executive bureaucracies who presided over a system which allowed the old and the vulnerable to be disgracefully treated in nursing homes. There is no doubt that inadequate staffing, inadequate care and, most seriously, inadequate vigilance on behalf of State authorities led to the deaths of patients in Leas Cross and in other nursing homes.


“The terms of reference given to the author of the report, Professor Des O'Neill, were flawed as they provided for only a documentary inquiry. The relatives of the deceased were not given the opportunity to participate even though they have valuable evidence to give about the treatment of their loved ones. Some of them have given moving and harrowing testimony in the media. Others obviously have stories to tell also and have a right to see it placed on the official record and outside the glare of media if they choose to do so. The Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney should provide a forum for the relatives to make this evidence available.


“In the wake of the initial exposé of the scandal of Leas Cross both Minister Harney and the Taoiseach promised a nursing homes inspectorate. This has not been delivered. The Government also needs to implement the recommendations of the National Economic and Social Forum report on the Care of Older People. It needs a clear strategy to end the over-reliance on private nursing homes for the care of older people and to ensure that all those who wish to be cared for in their own homes can be facilitated with the full support of all relevant State services.


“We have been waiting years for the Health Bill to put on a statutory footing the Health Information and Quality Authority and the Social Services Inspectorate. When all those structures are fully in place the government needs to ensure their effectiveness, otherwise we will simply be creating further layers of bureaucracy. Whatever body has overall responsibility for patient safety needs to be independent and to cover all care settings. The MRSA and Families Network has highlighted the fact that different regimes for infection control and prevention operate in public hospitals and private nursing homes and other sites where residential care is delivered. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.


“A lack of accountability on the part of sections of the medical profession and a lack of vigilance in the part of State authorities led to the ordeal endured by women in the LourdesHospital in Drogheda in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The women affected are still seeking justice and the full truth. The Leas Cross scandal occurred in our own decade. While the further measures introduced in the wake of Leas Cross to address


patient safety are welcome, the question must be asked how many other similar cases of neglect were going on throughout the county at the same time as Leas Cross? How many deaths are attributable to such neglect? We may never know.


“The motion mentions the case of the late Pat Joe Walsh who bled to death in Monaghan General Hospital because a diktat from on high decreed that a life-saving operation could not be performed on him in that hospital. I extend continuing sympathy to his family, a family that is now contemplating legal action. This is yet another family who feel driven to resort to the courts to get justice because of the treatment of their loved one within the healthcare system. It is a disgrace that they should have to do so.


“And what is the Government’s response to the case of Pat Joe Walsh in their amendment to this motion? They ask the Dáil to “recognise that high patient volumes are needed for specialist services to achieve the best clinical outcomes”. That is a pathetic response. The systematic cutting of services at Monaghan GeneralHospital has led to the deaths of patients, including that of Pat Joe Walsh. The policy of over-centralisation of hospital services is based on a skewed interpretation of the training requirements of medical staff, the demands of insurers and the interests of medical professionals concentrated in the larger hospitals. It is being driven by the Government and the HSE.


“In the North East region we are being promised a new super-hospital sometime in the future and in the meantime our local hospital services are being cut. The Teamwork Report is the same strategy of over-centralisation wrapped in a new package and it has been comprehensively rejected. I place on record again my rejection of that report and Sinn Féin’s demand, in common with campaigning communities, for our local hospitals to be given the key role they need to perform for the health and safety of patients.”





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