Consultants and HSE clash over liability


HOSPITAL CONSULTANTS and the Health Service Executive are at loggerheads over responsibility for anything untoward that might happen to patients as a result of cuts in the Louth-Meath Hospital Group.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) warned the HSE in a strongly worded letter last week that it would be responsible for any adverse event occurring after agency staff and overtime were cut in local hospitals.

The letter, seen by The Irish Times, is a response to an assertion by the HSE that it bears no responsibility for adverse consequences arising from the cuts.

Last month HSE regional director of operations Stephen Mulvany berated local managers for a lack of leadership in the face of an escalating deficit in the hospitals.

Mr Mulvany, who ordered an immediate 50 per cent cut in agency staff and a 10 per cent cut in overtime, has warned that risks to patients would increase unless managers provide “real leadership”.

Mr Mulvany said that these risks and any adverse outcomes would be the result of management’s inability to manage rather than the measures themselves.

This drew an angry response from IHCA assistant general secretary Donal Duffy, who wrote to Mr Mulvany reminding him of the contract applying to hospital consultants.

This states that the range and volume of health services to be provided “within available resources” is the responsibility of the employer.

It adds: “Services not provided as a consequence of a resource limit are the responsibility of the employer and not the consultant.

“In circumstances where you have made specific decisions that most likely will impact negatively on patient care, the IHCA cannot accept that anyone other than you could be held accountable should anything untoward devolve on any patients as a consequence of those decisions,” Mr Duffy wrote.

Mr Duffy copied his letter to the State Claims Agency, which handles medical negligence claims, and to consultants in the hospitals affected.

The plan of the HSE to introduce major cuts in staffing and close hospital beds in Louth-Meath is the subject of talks at the Labour Relations Commission.

The hospitals involved are Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, the Louth County Hospital in Dundalk and Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan.

Unions say the measures, designed to reduce a potential €20 million deficit by year’s end, will remove 400 posts, reduce services and close 50 hospital beds and theatres.