Irish patients suffer health service 'without a heart'
Nov 18, 2007, 14:07 GMT
Dublin - 'A department without a heart,' is what advocacy group Patients Together calls Ireland's health department, which has presided over a cancer misdiagnosis fiasco that has galvanized the country in recent weeks.
In the latest scandal to hit the health services, it has emerged that after 3,000 mammograms were taken at the midlands Portlaoise Hospital, seven women were erroneously given the all-clear.
'Initially, we heard how human error caused the problem. This gave people a sense of relief. Then as the situation further evolved, we learned how there were problems with dirt, with 16-year-old machines,' says Janette Byrne who founded the patients advocacy organization in response to how she and her mother were treated at Dublin hospitals.
'There were problems that prevented people from doing their jobs properly and which the department was told about,' she says.
Ironically, the cancer misdiagnosis scandal unfolded after the director of nursing at Portlaoise raised concerns about 10 'false positive' mammograms in August.
The Health Service Executive (HSE), the agency responsible for Ireland's health service, then terminated breast radiology services at Portlaoise, placed a consultant radiologist on administrative leave and set up a review of all breast radiology diagnoses at the hospital from November 2003 to August 2007.
After it emerged that seven women whose mammograms were reviewed were diagnosed with breast cancer, the Irish media, baying for HSE blood, revealed that a surgeon in the hospital had expressed concerns about radiological service as far back as July 2005.
He had particularly pinpointed inexperienced staff.
'Any sniff of cover-up in relation to cancer makes people angry,' says Byrne. 'People are angry that HSE officials are willing to sit on information that can cause death. The whole fact that women were waiting for results and they got the wrong results which delayed treatment makes people very angry.'
Byrne, who when she was a cancer patient in Dublin's Mater hospital ended up taking the service to court, is keen to emphasize that the latest furore is just one symptom of the well-advanced health service malaise.
'Patients are devastated and are getting it from every angle; overcrowded Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments, patients on trolleys, hygiene problems.
'We were promised that hygiene would be sorted out, but we still get calls every day from patients about things as basic as dirty bathrooms, handwashing facilities and towels,' she says.
'People suffer as a result of cancelled operations, waiting for biopsy results, shortages of GPs. In some areas, in the main cities, there is such a shortage of GPs that you cannot get an appointment the same day.'
Byrne's personal dealings with the health service were characterized by fear, waiting and anger.
'I was told I would be having chemotherapy after being treated for cancer of the lymph system. But while I was visualizing the cancer returning, I sometimes had a wait of three days and once nine days for chemotherapy. Although I was booked in for chemotherapy on a particular day, I had to ring up on the day and see if there was a bed available.'
Byrne's negative experience was revisited when she watched her mother spend three-and-a-half days on a trolley because of a bed shortage, which she considers is the worst problem in the health service.
'In a restructuring of the health service three years ago, 3,000 beds were lost to the system and not enough have been replaced. There hasn't been an improvement in the problem of patients waiting on trolleys, which is really high at the moment,' she says.
'Sometimes, in Dublin even plastic chairs in Accident and Emergency departments are full and ambulances can't get people in hospital, so they have to wait too. God forbid there is ever a train crash or an emergency situation,' she says.
John Kidd, an ambulance driver, employed by Dublin Fire Brigade which operate 12 of 15 ambulances in the Dublin area for the HSE, also pinpoints the lack of beds in the system.
'If we arrive at a hospital where there are no beds, we can wait up to two hours to move a patient into the hospital while calls are coming in,' Kidd says. He feels that there has been an enormous disimprovement in the service since he joined in the 1980s.
'There is big frustration within the service, members of the service are disgruntled with the service they are providing. In a review of the service carried out by the Chief Ambulance Officer in London, recommended that the number of ambulances be increased from 12 to 20, but nothing has been done,' says Kidd.
According to Kidd, Ireland has one of the lowest rates of ambulance cover in the world and this along with the shortage of beds is creating an impossible situation.
'We sometimes have no ambulance to send out. Patients are definitely suffering,' he says.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur