Shortage of community health nurses leaves us ‘on the doorstep of an epidemic’

The reduction in frontline medical services has left Galway “on the doorstep of an epidemic”. The claim was made by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames who has expressed concern at the lack of community health doctors in the area, which has led to a reduction in BCG vaccines and development checks in children.

The BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin ) vaccine is the primary method of preventing tuberculosis in children. There is currently a waiting list of 800 toddlers in the Galway region who are at risk of tuberculosis, as one of their parents hails from a country with a high prevalence of the disease.

Development checks are also suffering as a result of staff shortages, bringing an increased risk of health problems for children as defects go undetected. Senator Healy Eames has brought the matter to the attention of the Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, and voiced her concerns over the situation: “As for the importance of BCG vaccination, the current waiting list for at-risk non-national toddlers is 800 and growing. Furthermore, 50 per cent of schoolchildren do not receive the vaccination. Consequently, unless this matter is addressed, the Galway region is on the doorstep of an epidemic. One key point being raised by this Adjournment matter is that 800 at-risk children are not getting the BCG vaccine and this could spread contagion among the general population.

“In respect of the developmental checks, as a matter of public interest and in the interest of complying with international obligations, all children are meant to be checked by the health system. The objective is early detection and intervention and this is an important check and a human right. At present in Galway, the startling position is that 50 per cent of toddlers in the county have had no screening, 1,850 toddlers under the age of 10 months are on the waiting list at present and 450 toddlers between seven and nine months have not had a developmental check.”

The shortage in services in HSE West is primarily blamed on the over-zealous application of the recruitment embargo. Although the Department has claimed that redeployment will be enacted to preserve service levels, Senator Healy-Eames says crucial frontline staff have not been adequately replaced:

“In the past five years five doctors have departed the University Hospital Galway community medical department. Through retirement, maternity leave or other reasons, they have left a gaping hole in the Department's frontline team. In the past six months two further medical staff have been lost to the department, with one departing in October 2010 and the other in April 2011. None of these front-line professionals has been replaced. In addition, owing to the incentive for HSE staff to take redundancy, further gaps have arisen in respect of the administration and support staff. This directly affects the accountability and transparency of the hospital's performance.”

Senator Healy Eames is due to meet with Minster Reilly on June 22 to discuss Galway’s lack of theatre nurses, and hopes to use the meeting as an opportunity to draw further spotlight on the issue of children’s health in the region.

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