Shutting down Portiuncula Hospital’s maternity unit is not the answer says former health forum chief

Cllr Padraig Conneely

Cllr Padraig Conneely

Shutting down Portiuncula Hospital’s maternity unit would not be the solution to problems raised about deficiencies in standards of care identified at the Ballinasloe facility, a former chairperson of the HSE’s west regional health forum said this week.

While this option was reportedly proposed in a controversial consultant report last year former city mayor Cllr Padraig Conneely said this would be “too drastic a measure” to consider.

He insisted however that major questions must be answered about the “serious, serious issues” which have come to light since baby safety concerns were revealed in a leaked report recently.

The HSE is carrying out a review into the deaths of two babies and the birth of five other infants who suffered a lack of oxygen at Portiuncula Hospital’s maternity unit last year. Deputy Ciaran Cannon appealed, in this newspaper last week, for the timescale of the independent review to be extended to accommodate a number of additional families who have come forward with concerns about care issues at the hospital. Meanwhile a couple, Teresa and Ronan Dunne, voiced major concerns about the care their then 11-month-old son Eoghan received at the hospital on RTE’s Prime Time programme on Tuesday night. They outlined that their child who is now three, and was originally believed to have pneumonia, has major neurological damage.

Cllr Conneely said the number of concerns raised recently about the care provided at Portiuncula’s maternity hospital were “alarming”.

“We hear of concerns occasionally and then a flood of them comes together. That is alarming. We do not hear anything until a major issue occurs.”

The Fine Gael city councillor urged people to be “more questioning” regarding health care and appealed to staff with concerns about any health care facility to come forward, to be “whistleblowers”.

“I think, in general, people are not questioning enough, in the past this was particularly the case. They accepted what the medics told them, especially the long established consultants. There was too much bowing to them, they had too powerful a role, they were totally in control. They were unquestionable, unanswerable and unaccountable. Even the nurses who might have wanted to say something were afraid they would be hauled over the coals. Thankfully, you see a change in the newer consultants.

“I hope that the whistleblower legislation would encourage people to come forward. That is there now [for their protection]. I don’t see much of it happening though but maybe it takes a while for it to bed-in. So many frightening and horrific stories are coming out of our hospitals. Someone must know and see what is going on. Yet people are staying silent. Is it caused by fear? We are living in a small community where everyone knows each other. But the situations we hear about are not someone breaking a toe. At the end of the day people have died.”

He said families with concerns were often put off taking legal action against the HSE because of the cost involved. “It is a difficult and costly road to go down. People were frightened, they were told it could cost them €100,000. Finance was not a problem for the Department of Health.”

Welcoming the spotlight being shone on health care standards generally Cllr Conneely said the HSE must learn from its mistakes and resolve any outstanding issues.

“Are all the new requirements/conditions that have resulted from reports on various investigations being adequately implemented in hospitals? Our health care system is a slow burner, the HSE and the Department of Health are slow learners and are very slow to make changes.”

Mayor of Co Galway Mary Hoade, who is a member of the HSE West’s regional health forum, said it is important that Portiuncula Hospital and the HSE co-operates with the independent investigation currently taking place into care levels at the facility’s maternity unit.

“It is important that everybody co-operates with this investigation, that everything is brought to light. It is important that whatever protocols are needed are put in place. We have to be mindful of the families involved too, we need to support them.”

She stated she was concerned about the reported five month time lapse between when a report on Eoghan Dunne’s care at Portiuncula Hospital was completed and it was forwarded to his parents in February 2014.

The Fianna Fail county councillor said this was “very unfair and unacceptable”. In a statement the Saolta Care Group/Portiuncula Hospital outlined it could not comment on individual cases. “Saolta-Portiuncula Hospital will be dealing directly with all service users who raise concerns and their issues will be dealt with appropriately in line with agreed policies.”

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