A decision by the National Ambulance Service to stop the provision of patient transport to dialysis and cancer patients within the western area has been over-ruled by the Minister for Health Dr James Reilly. The HSE has been accused of “acting in an independent way” and without Dr Reilly’s consent on this matter and there is now a question mark over how the service dealt with the situation.
That is according to Deputy Michelle Mulherin who raised the matter with the Minister on Tuesday.
While the automatic entitlement of transport for patients with medical cards to dialysis and cancer treatments in the HSE west region is under review and will be discontinued from July 1, a meeting of the HSE West forum in Merlin Park on Tuesday was told that transport will still be provided to those patients who are deemed in most need of it. A fact that has been re-iterated by Minister Reilly.
As well as Minister Reilly over-ruling the Ambulance Service on this matter, the HSE has also done a U turn following reports earlier this week that the patient transport scheme was being discontinued in its entirety, but a serious overrun of the ambulance budget means that a review is necessary and the service needs restructuring. However the HSE has confirmed in writing to the Mayo Advertiser that “the priority was to ensure the maximum level of support for patients most in need in terms of accessing treatment”.
Minister of State Kathleen Lynch, on behalf of Minister Reilly, told Deputy John O’Mahony this week that the HSE has been instructed to “not withdraw any services from acute hospitals unless and until he receives a full briefing on the details of what is proposed, alternative arrangements to be put in place and the overall implications for patients”. And following discussions with the Health Minister and the regional director of operations in the HSE West, John Hennessy, this week Dep O’Mahony has confirmed that transport will continue to be made available to patients while the review is taking place.
Currently 456 dialysis patients and 125 cancer patients avail of free transport to their treatments in the west region, but this will be significantly reduced from next month.
The scheme will be focused on those who most need it according to Mr Hennessy.
Alternatives being considered by the HSE West are supporting voluntary organisations which are in a position to provide free transport.
Mayo county councillor Austin Francis O’Malley, a member of the HSE West forum, pointed out at this week’s meeting that the budget was overrun in the past and the service had not been cut. He asked why it was now being cut. He said it was a bitter pill for patients to swallow, especially when they see golden handshakes being given to HSE managers.
Cllr Seamus Weir added that it was bad enough that cancer patients had to wait 10 weeks for treatment without being denied transport.
The meeting heard that the budget had been over spent by almost €1 million. This year €2.5 million has been allocated to the west region for patient transport Paidi O’Riordan, west area operations manager for the National Ambulance Service, said. €1 million of the overall budget had been allocated for this service up to the end of May, but the budget has been overspent by €920,000 Mr O’Riordan explained.
Mr Hennessy added that the days of supplying “indiscriminate transport” are over, and qualified this statement by adding that patients will be supplied transport when it is needed.
Mr O’Riordan pointed out that the number of patients attending dialysis had increased but the budget for transport has remained static for the past four or five years. He said there was a plan nationally to move dialysis into the community. The satellite renal service at Mayo General Hospital is to be extended, the meeting was also told.
Following the review of the service, which is due to be concluded by the end of June, the HSE will “deliver a service that is equitable, fair and efficient”, according to Mr Hennessy.