Varadkar ‘ashamed’ of how patients were treated

An independent patient advocacy service is ‘crucial’ for change, the Minister for Health says

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar appears before an Oireachtas commitee meeting on health and children.


Leo Varadkar says he is “ashamed” with the manner patients were treated at Portlaise hospital.

The Minister for Health said an independent patient advocacy service will be “crucial” in supporting patients and changing culture at Portlaoise hospital.

The recent Hiqa report, he said, should not be “just another report” but rather a “watershed” in the approach to 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, ” Mr Varadkar said.

The Oireachtas Health Committee, which was hearing quarterly updates on a range of issues from Mr Varadkar, Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE, and Kathleen Lynch, Minister of State with responsibility for primary and social care, heard Portlaoise hospital is expecting about 1,900 births in its maternity unit in 2015.

Both Mr Varadkar and Mr O’Brien sought to assure the committee changers had been made to the unit, with more to come.

“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.

“Many did not receive the quality of care we should expect from a modern health service in the developed world. Patients and their families were treated dreadfully and at times inhumanely.”

However, he warned against the perception that problems within the hospital were solely the product of resources.

“If we allow it to be an excuse it will always be the default excuse. That in itself is a threat to patient safety,” he said.

“It costs nothing to care. Honesty costs nothing, neither does compassion. Adherence to professional standards and being properly trained and accredited to do ones job should be a given. Too often, it’s not.”

There is now a need for a new culture where complaints from patients are taken seriously and treated as a measure of where improvements can be made, he said. In this regard, a patient advocacy service would be crucial.

Mr O’Brien told the committee he wished to reiterate the HSE’s apology to those families affected by conditions within the hospital.

Steps have already been taken to improve quality and safety of services, he pointed out, although conceding “undoubtedly questions of sustainability [NEED]to be addressed”.

“The staffing moratorium across the public services over the past five years has impeded a full resolution of this situation up to recent times, as a consequence of a much reduced health budget arising,” he told the committee.

“A considerable number of staff have been, and continue to be, appointed to key posts of concern in both the maternity and general services.”

Changes at the hospital have already included the “formalisation” of links with the Coombe Woman’s and Infants University Hospital and, in this regard he said, a clinical director for integration has been appointed.

Existing relationships between Portlaoise and Tullamore, Tallaght, Naas and St. James’ hospitals are being further developed and strengthened particularly in the areas of emergency medicine, ICU, surgery and bed capacity.

“In light of this report I have taken the decision to bring in an external investigator in accordance with our disciplinary procedure to look at issues of concern,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Many of the issues which arise in Portlaoise aren’t just about resources or the quality of clinical care but about the human and compassionate care that was or was not provided.”