Let down by the HSE — again

The extent of the problems which exist within the health service became glaringly apparent this week with the major catastrophe which developed surrounding the provision of patient transport to certain treatments.

On Monday a letter became public which caused widespread alarm among those patients who avail of HSE transport to dialysis and cancer treatments.

The letter, from the North West Ambulance Service to the Mayo General and Roscommon County hospital managers, was informing the hospitals that the transport budget for 2011 was expended and the decision had been made to cut any further transport to dialysis and cancer treatments within the western area.

The letter also indicated that the ambulance service had written to John Hennessy, regional director of operations in the HSE West, outlining the position.

That was the position on Monday and as far as patients were concerned from July 1 they would no longer receive HSE transport.

However, the story changed only 24 hours later when, at a meeting of the HSE Regional West Forum in Merlin Park, Mr Hennessy was clear that the service would not be cut until a review had taken place and he was adamant that the HSE would after that date continue to provide transport to those most in need of it. Who those people are has yet to be determined.

But the bottom line is clear, there is no money in the kitty and efficiencies must be found. It would be very easy for me to pontificate about the need to continue supplying this service to all 600 patients who currently avail of it, but the fact of the matter is the country is in a crisis, the money is not available, and efficiencies must be found across the whole public sector, including the health service.

It was reassuring though to see the Health Minister Dr James Reilly coming out this week and overruling a decision by the ambulance service which was obviously taken without his consent or knowledge.

Someone needs to take control of the HSE - a person who will be accountable for its colossal budget and ensuring wastage is eliminated. The fact is there are increasing demands on services, but the budget has been reduced. There will never be enough money for expenditure on health. Education is a second area that needs looking at. Cutting special needs assistants at a time when the Government is actively encouraging children with special needs to enter mainstream education is a backward step.

And then there’s the controversy of the mutilating operations that were performed on women in Ireland when a simple Caesarean section would have sufficed.

To think that certain surgeons who saw contraception as a moral hazard opted for symphysiotomies and pubiotomies, effectively opting to split open women’s pelvises for fear they limit their families, is extremely frustrating. To think that these operations were very rarely performed for medical reasons is frightening. Some women were left disabled, incontinent, and in pain and this type of surgery was performed as late as 1992. Hardly the dark ages.

Thankfully the truth is finally emerging. It is little consolation to the women who have suffered a lifetime of pain and suffering.

Every day now a new scandal or revelation or headline story emerges about the country’s health service. Dr Reilly needs to live up to his election promise and take back control of the HSE. He said the interim HSE board will lead to a much quicker, shorter, chain of communication and authority. So far the lines of communication have broken down in that Minister Reilly seems to be the last to be told of developments, while leaks to the media from within the HSE of cuts are on the rise. It’s people’s lives that are hanging in the balance.


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