The scope of the external review into children’s spinal surgeries at Temple Street hospital may be expanded to include more cases and to examine delays across the service, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
The HSE last week ordered a review by a UK expert into the work of a Temple Street consultant over high rates of post-operative complications. Patient groups have criticised the exercise as overly narrow and say they may boycott it.
Speaking in Dublin on Monday, Mr Donnelly insisted there is “plenty of room” in the existing terms of reference of the review to reflect what patients and their families want.
Selvadurai Nayagam, the Liverpool-based expert appointed to conduct the review, “can go as wide as he wants and as deep” in his work, the Minister said.
“The terms of references as we have them have been deliberately written to be as encompassing as they need to be ... I am not only open to updating the terms of reference, this was intended as part of the work.”
Asked whether the problems at Temple Street could extend beyond the 16 cases that were the subject of an initial review, Mr Donnelly said patient safety concerns were raised in connection with one surgeon and a defined number of patients.
“However, if Dr Nayagam has any cause to believe that that should be expanded, he has full authority to do that. I certainly wouldn’t rule anything like that out. We will fully support that if that’s what’s required.”
The Minister, who is due to meet Dr Nayagam next week, said he understood why the families involved, including the advocacy groups, are so frustrated. “Their children have been waiting for years, sometimes, for surgery that they should never have had to wait for. The health consequences for those children can be catastrophic.
“So I understand why the parents are angry. I’d be angry if I was one of the patients they’re right to be angry.”
Though €19 million was allocated to children’s spinal surgeries last year and the number of operations being carried out has increased, waiting lists are still too long, he acknowledged.
For this reason, Dr Nayagam has been asked to look at “the totality of the service across all sites, including Temple Street, Crumlin, Cappagh and Blackrock, and to see if anything else can be done to get down to the target of treating all children within four months.”
Asked about Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane that he was “asleep at the wheel”, Mr Donnelly said the issues at Temple Street were “deadly serious” and he hope people would not start playing politics with them and “engaging in silly sloganeering”.
Asked about the HSE’s overspend this year, which may reach €1 billion by the end of the year, Mr Donnelly said there were three components the increased level of spending. Health inflation caused mainly by the Ukraine war was “nobody’s fault”, and it and the costs resulting from increased demand by patients for services were issues for Government to deal with.
The third element related to increased spending on agency, overtime and consulting. On this, Mr Donnelly said his officials were engaging “very seriously” with the HSE to bring down this controllable level of overspend.
“Already, we’ve put measures in place and there will be more.”