Minister trying to blame doctors for trolley crisis, say Limerick consultants

Simon Harris accused of ‘breathtaking cowardice’ for remarks about private practice

Medical consultants at University Hospital Limerick have accused Minister for Health Simon Harris and Cabinet colleagues of trying to deflect responsibility for the trolley crisis onto doctors.

In an angry response to remarks by Mr Harris last week about the level of private practice at the hospital, seven of its consultants have accused the Minister of “breathtaking political cowardice” for criticising doctors working in underfunded conditions.

Mr Harris enraged many doctors last week when he accused consultants at UHL of being too busy to treat a 95-year-old patient in the emergency department because they were doing private work upstairs.

The level of private work in the hospital is above that found in an average hospital, he told the Oireachtas health committee. Most consultants were not “getting into their cars” and going to smaller hospitals in the region to treat patients.


‘Confidence’ The following day, Mr Harris sought to clarify his remarks, saying he had “every confidence in our brilliant doctors, who work extremely hard”. However, “we cannot be confident that some of the work practices we see as part of private practice in public hospitals are serving patients well,” he told the Dáil.

In a letter to The Irish Times published on Tuesday, the consultants say Government ministers have “ accused clinicians of failing to travel between UHL and the peripheral hospitals in order to treat patients”.

“We refute this in the strongest possible terms,” they write.

Overcrowding in UHL is the result of a botched reconfiguration of hospital services in the midwest, they say.

"The failure on behalf of the Department of Health to follow through on promises made at the outset of reconfiguration in the midwest for the past 10 years has led to the well-foreseen worsening conditions suffered by patients and staff on the Limerick campus."

“Attacking clinicians, who have steadfastly struggled to maintain the highest standards of care under the most severe underfunded conditions, displays a level of political cowardice that is simply breathtaking.

“We will of course continue to strive for the best care for our patients, and abhor the conditions that many of them are forced to bear, but it is important for the general public to know exactly where the blame for this fiasco truly lies.”

The letter is signed by professors Calvin Coffey, Patrick Dillon, Eamon Kavanagh and Austin Stack; Dr James Shannon; Colin Pierce and Tony Moloney.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.