Leo Varadkar ‘ashamed’ at inhumane treatment of Portlaoise patients
After report on maternity practices, independent patient advocacy service ‘crucial’
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: “I am ashamed at the manner in which patients were treated without respect, care and compassion when they most needed it by members of my own profession and other professions.” Photograph: Colin Keegan
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said he was ashamed at the treatment afforded to expectant parents at Portlaoise hospital who were often treated inhumanely at the hands of medical staff.
He confirmed that a steering group would be established to oversee the implementation of eight recommendations set out by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) in its damning report on maternity practices at the hospital.
As the fallout over the report continued, Mr Varadkar – who visited the hospital and met families on Wednesday – said he saw an independent patient advocacy service as “crucial”. The Oireachtas health committee will have a separate meeting with HSE officials next Tuesday, specifically dealing with the Hiqa report and its consequences.
Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE, said that while he agreed with the recommendations in the report, this did not necessarily mean he agreed with every line in it.
Mr Varadkar chose forthright language in his submission and said this could not be “just another report” but rather a “watershed” moment for maternity services.
“Having met some former patients and their families last night, I am more convinced than ever that a patient advocacy service should be established and it will be fully independent of the Health Service Executive, ” he said.
This year alone Portlaoise hospital expects about 1,900 births in its maternity unit.
“I am ashamed at the manner in which patients were treated without respect, care and compassion when they most needed it by members of my own profession and other professions,” Mr Varadkar said.
Mr O’Brien reiterated the HSE’s apology to those families affected and said steps had already been taken to improve quality and safety of services.
“A considerable number of staff have been, and continue to be, appointed to key posts of concern in both the maternity and general services,” he said.
Changes at the hospital have already included the “formalisation” of links with the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital and, in this regard, he said, a clinical director for integration had been appointed.
Existing relationships between Portlaoise and Tullamore, Tallaght, Naas and St James’s hospitals are being further developed. Mr O’Brien said he decided to bring in an external investigator to look at “issues of concern” in accordance with disciplinary procedures.
He told Renua deputy Lucinda Creighton he would be better positioned to answer further questions on accountability at next week’s meeting.
Ms Creighton told the committee that following revelations made by the Prime Time programme, she had met Mark and Roisin Molloy, whose son died in Portlaoise in 2012.
Speaking about her own pregnancy, Ms Creighton said: “I had a very difficult labour and my baby’s heart rate dropped . . . All that went through my mind during that experience was: thank God I’m in Holles Street.
“Ultimately when things went really, really seriously wrong they saved my baby’s life. The reality is that if the level of care that I received had been afforded to the families in Portlaoise their babies would also be alive. And that is a really stark reality and one that I find very deeply upsetting.”