Advocacy group set up to fight for better treatment for patients


A new advocacy group has been set up to fight for better treatment for patients and their families at hospitals in the west, and to bring kindness and compassion back into the heathcare professions.

The Galway branch of Patient Focus was initiated by people who have experienced bad treatment by the health services, particularly at University College Hospital Galway (UCHG). Many of the pressing problems that exist at UCHG would not cost any money to solve, according to the founder of Patient Focus in Ireland, Dr Tony O'Sullivan.

He says they could be solved simply, such as a change in attitude towards patients, retraining in communications skills and a return of the compassion that seems to be missing from Irish hospitals today. It was in recognition of such problems at UCHG (and in the health services in the west generally) and the powerlessness of patients and their families that a group of Galway people got together and decided it was time to do something.

They contacted Dr O'Sullivan and were so impressed by the success his group has had nationally in helping patients and their families they set up a local branch.

The Galway branch of Patient Focus is chaired by Ms Catherine Carey with Ms Mary Tierney as secretary, Ms Eilish McCormack as assistant secretary, Mr Jack Murphy as treasurer and Ms Anna McHugh as PRO.

In Galway to launch the local group, Dr O'Sullivan explained that during his time training as a GP in Britain he became aware that patients there could resort to simple local complaints procedures. "Their complaints might be as simple as asking for a coffee machine in the waiting room or as serious as a delay in a doctor's referral.

"Unfortunately, the range of things that can and does go wrong in healthcare is huge." Dr O'Sullivan got involved in patient advocacy in 1995, but it was not until 1998 that he founded Patient Focus. Since then the group has helped over 1,000 Irish people get information, gain access to medical records, get apologies or the standard of treatment they deserve.

Although much publicity is given to the problem of access to the health services in Ireland, Dr O'Sullivan believes that issues of privacy and dignity can be just as important to a vulnerable patient.

While people can feel vulnerable and powerless in complaining about their treatment in hospital, they can feel much more confident with the backing of a larger group such as Patient Focus behind them, and the group is willing to help everybody who contacts them.

Dr O'Sullivan was quick to stress that private patients are affected just as much as public patients by the breakdown in communications and changes in attitudes in the healthcare profession. "We get many letters from people who went to private clinics because they expected better care but not only were they kept waiting, they were treated rather abominably in the private sector as well."

Patient Focus also has influence with the Government, the health boards and various organisations such the Irish Medical Council. The group was also part of the consultation process for the new Health Strategy.

Dr O'Sullivan is urging the Galway patient advocates to raise their voices and demand to be heard. "We are going to try and change attitudes, to make people respond to what the patient is saying. In five or seven years time, we may still have waiting lists to be treated, but at least we will be treated more kindly while we wait." The contact number for the Galway Patient Focus Group is (091) 764401.