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Neary victims are owed a Scheme of Redress – Crowe

23 February, 2007


Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has said the failure of the medical council to protect the public was seen in the scandal of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda where dozens of women were mutilated by Michael Neary. Speaking in the Dáil today on the Medical Practitioners Bill 2007 Deputy Crowe said Mary Harney owes a solemn obligation to the women victims of Michael Neary to establish a Scheme of Redress which will provide them with both a forum to state their cases and recompense for the physical injury and personal grief and trauma they have all suffered.

Deputy Crowe said, "The Medical Council as established at present has clearly failed to protect the public. That failure was seen in the scandal of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda where dozens of women were mutilated by Michael Neary. The Neary scandal is the background to the Bill and one of the main purposes of this legislation should be to ensure that such appalling treatment of vulnerable people within our health services is never allowed to happen again.

"The women victims of Michael Neary were betrayed by the Lourdes Hospital authorities which turned a blind eye to what was going on. They were betrayed by Neary's professional body, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association which carried out a bogus investigation that ended up actually praising Neary. They were betrayed by the Irish Medical Council which proved incapable of dealing with this outrage speedily, openly and fairly.

"The Report of Judge Maureen Harding Clark into the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda was a damning indictment not just of one consultant but of a conspiracy involving a number of people who either participated in gross medical malpractice or turned a blind eye or took part in the cover-up afterwards. This included the unlawful removal of the charts and birth registers of many of the victims of Neary 'with a view to concealing the details of the operation performed and the treatment given'. In other words, this was theft to facilitate a cover-up.

"All of this was allowed to happen in a climate where consultants were seen to be above reproach and where elitism led to a total lack of accountability.

"We are still waiting for a Scheme of Redress to deal with all claims of medical negligence by the women who were in the care of the consultants and staff of the Maternity Unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda between the years 1974-1998.

"The Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney owes a solemn obligation to the women victims to establish a Scheme of Redress which will provide them with both a forum to state their cases and recompense for the physical injury and personal grief and trauma they have all suffered." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

Medical Practitioners Bill 2007:

This is a very important piece of legislation. It is one of the most significant measures affecting the health services in recent years. It concerns the accountability and the training of health professionals and such a piece of legislation should be designed to protect patients and to help ensure that they receive care of the highest standard. Yet for a Bill of such importance the Government has guillotined Second Stage to a three-hour debate. This is not acceptable. It is equally unacceptable that we have had to wait so long for this Bill. Commitments in the Government's 2001 Health Strategy which have not been abandoned altogether have been repeatedly delayed and this Bill is one of them.

The core of the Bill is the reform of the Irish Medical Council, the main regulating body for the medical profession in this State. Section 6 of the Bill describes the object of the Medical Council - "to protect the public by promoting and better ensuring high standards of professional conduct and professional education, training and competence among registered medical practitioners".

The Medical Council as established at present has clearly failed to protect the public. That failure was seen in the scandal of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda where dozens of women were mutilated by Michael Neary. The Neary scandal is the background to the Bill and one of the main purposes of this legislation should be to ensure that such appalling treatment of vulnerable people within our health services is never allowed to happen again.

The women victims of Michael Neary were betrayed by the Lourdes Hospital authorities which turned a blind eye to what was going on. They were betrayed by Neary's professional body, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association which carried out a bogus investigation that ended up actually praising Neary. They were betrayed by the Irish Medical Council which proved incapable of dealing with this outrage speedily, openly and fairly.

The Report of Judge Maureen Harding Clark into the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda was a damning indictment not just of one consultant but of a conspiracy involving a number of people who either participated in gross medical malpractice or turned a blind eye or took part in the cover-up afterwards. This included the unlawful removal of the charts and birth registers of many of the victims of Neary 'with a view to concealing the details of the operation performed and the treatment given'. In other words, this was theft to facilitate a cover-up.

All of this was allowed to happen in a climate where consultants were seen to be above reproach and where elitism led to a total lack of accountability.

We are still waiting for a Scheme of Redress to deal with all claims of medical negligence by the women who were in the care of the consultants and staff of the Maternity Unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda between the years 1974-1998.

The Minister for Health and Children owes a solemn obligation to the women victims to establish a Scheme of Redress which will provide them with both a forum to state their cases and recompense for the physical injury and personal grief and trauma they have all suffered.

The Government also needs to make clear where stands the Garda investigation. Will prosecutions ever be pursued in relation to those who stole medical records?

The Harding- Clark Report raises profound questions about the regulation of the medical profession which must be addressed and this is the purpose of the Bill. The sad reality is that self-regulation by the professionals in this case did not work, it led to a grave injustice to patients and its failure showed up major weaknesses in the system.

The Government says in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill that the balance between self-regulation and public accountability needs to be adjusted. That is definitely the case in the wake of the Neary scandal. One of the main ways the Bill seeks to redress the balance is to change the composition of the Medical Council to give it a lay majority. Both the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association are objecting to this and they want to maintain a majority of medical professional representatives on the Council. No doubt this argument will go back and forward during Committee and Report stage of the Bill. As I said, self-regulation by the professions failed miserably in the Neary case and in other cases and this has weakened the argument for maintaining the Council as it is.

The Bill gives extensive powers to the Minister regarding the Council and he or she will appoint the members as nominated by professional bodies and statutory agencies. The Minister will also appoint lay members of the Council who "have such qualifications, expertise, interests or experience as, in the opinion of the Minister, would enable them to make a contribution to the performance of the Council's functions".

The key question for us as public representatives is this: 'In the new Medical Council who will represent the interests of the patients, the users of the services of medical professionals?' That is far from clear in the Bill. I believe citizens will be more interested in the answer to that question than in arguments about how many representatives from which professional bodies should be on the Council. The public have the right to know if this new Council will serve them better.

Section 7 says the Medical Council shall "perform its functions in the public interest". That has to be the key point of this Bill. The Council has to act not in the interest of the Government of the day, not in the interests of this or that professional body but in the public interest. The majority of medical professionals do act in the public interest. They carry out health-giving and life-saving work every day, very often against the odds in our health services which are crippled by the disastrous policies of this and previous Governments.

The policies of this Government are undermining the ethos of public service which should guide everyone who works in our health system. This Government is pursuing a policy of privatisation which puts profit before people. They are providing land at public hospital sites as well as massive tax breaks to developers and speculators who see healthcare as a lucrative business. Their private for-profit hospitals are being facilitated by this Government and once they are in place they are going to suck the life-blood out of the public health service. As the public system deteriorates, health professionals will be drawn into the private for-profit system. It is already happening. We saw this week where a primary care specialist hired with a massive salary to advise CEO Chief Professor Brendan Drumm has now left the HSE for a top post and a seat on the Board of Directors of private primary care company, Touchstone.

The public service ethos has been undermined for years by the contracts which allow hospital consultants to profit simultaneously from both the public system and private practice. The Government claims to be trying to change that in the negotiations with the consultants but Minister Harney has totally undermined her own case. She claims to be serving the public system while at the same time bringing in the privateers. The government is reinforcing the two-tier system. Public service is playing second fiddle to private profit.

Part 10 of the Bill deals with education and training for the medical and dental professions. This is a very important issue. Access to medical education and training is impossible for the children of lower income families. Doctors, surgeons and dentists are still by and large drawn from the better off section of our society. We are all the poorer for that. The talent and commitment of many, many young people is lost to the health services because they have not been given the opportunities they need and deserve. I don't see any reference in the Bill to the Council helping to ensure that the best possible pool of talent gets access to training and education. That has to be addressed.

What also has to be addressed is the massive bureaucratic backlog in the filling of posts and the appointment of health professionals in our public health services. I am told by people working in the health services that since the establishment of the HSE the bureaucracy has got worse and even when posts are fully funded and ready to be filled it is a nightmare to actually get the qualified professional appointed and in place to provide the service for patients. There is a massive bureaucratic bottleneck that is denying patients the professional care they need. That has to be addressed as a matter of urgency also.

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