Campaigners for round-the-clock cardiac services in the southeast have called for an end to “medical apartheid” in a protest outside the Dáil.
Several hundred protesters gathered on Tuesday as local leaders in Waterford briefed politicians from all parties on the issue in Leinster House.
The rally, and the meeting with politicians, was addressed by members of the family of Tom Power, from Dunmore East in Co Waterford, who died in an ambulance while being taken to hospital in Cork last month.
Mr Power’s death has given fresh impetus to a long-running campaign in Waterford for the provision of 24/7 cardiac services and a second cath lab. Waterford is the only one of six regional cardiac centres that operates on a five-day, nine-to-five basis, rather than round-the-clock.
Catherine Power said her brother was in "a cold grave" because "the doors were locked" on the catheterisation lab in University Hospital Waterford (UHW) when he needed help.
Mr Power suffered a heart attack but could not be treated at UHW because it was a Sunday and its cardiac service was closed.
He died a lonely death because “someone thought ‘let’s save a few bob’,” his sister told the briefing.
She said her brother, a farmer, would have been convicted of cruelty if he had allowed his animals to be treated the way he was treated, yet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris had been told years ago this would happen.
She also asked why Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris were not present, adding: "No Simon, no Leo, no respect".The politicians present, who included Minister of State John Halligan and Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey, both from Waterford, gave Ms Power a standing ovation.
Last year, a Government-commissioned report by Belfast-based cardiologist Niall Herity recommended against expanding the service, and said emergency cardiac patients should be treated in Dublin or Cork. Sinn Féin has published a Dáil motion calling for a second independent review of the issue, to be conducted within six weeks.
An average of 6.3 people a year will die in the southeast because of the lack of a 24/7 cardiac service in the region, Waterford Institute of Technology lecturer Ray Griffin told the briefing.
Mr Griffin said the anger in the southeast about the Herity report was well-founded. He questioned whether the report should have been written by “a UCD graduate working one hour from Dublin” whose employer had service ties with the HSE.
Important stakeholders had not been consulted and the report had relied on British data that was applicable only in the UK, he claimed.
Willy Doyle, a retired fireman whose 39-year-old daughter survived a heart attack in 2014, said Cork had six cath labs for 600,000 people, while Waterford had just one for 500,000. "We don't need another review of services. Common sense will tell you this is unbalanced."
Speakers questioned why the HSE was spending €4 million on a new mortuary in Waterford, more than the cost of providing 24/7 cardiac care.
Mr Halligan said he believed at the time the Government was negotiated that the Herity report would get the issue “over the line”. However, while Dr Herity was an honourable man, Mr Halligan claimed the HSE had interfered with the review .
Leaving the Government would be “the easy option” and yet the position would remain unchanged. He expressed confidence the campaign will succeed in its objectives .