Coveney: ‘Political correctness gone mad’ to pretend hospital rostering not an issue

Need to ensure no more ‘rogue doctors’ in wake of High Court case, Calleary says

There were heated exchanges in the Dáil as the Tánaiste insisted the Taoiseach was attempting to have “an honest conversation” around hospital rostering as the row continued over Leo Varadkar’s remarks about Christmas and new year holiday leave.

Simon Coveney said it was "political correctness gone mad" to "pretend that rostering is not an issue and that we shouldn't be preparing for it and have an honest conversation about it".

But Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty insisted to Mr Coveney that this "is about blatant deflection of your failure".

Mr Doherty said doctors and nurses knew Mr Varadkar was trying to criticise them and shift the blame.


And he rounded on the Taoiseach claiming when he was minister for health in 2014 that at Christmas “he was holidaying in Miami at the time the winter health crisis was at its peak,” so he had “some cheek” to blame doctors and nurses.

He called on the Tánaiste to “do the decent thing and apologise for those insulting and hurtful comments to doctors and nurses, that you’re doubling down on”.

On Tuesday in the Dáil when questioned about hospital overcrowding and the delay in publishing the HSE winter plan, Mr Varadkar said that hospitals were effectively closed for seven of the 12 days of Christmas and that consultants and nurses should not be on holidays in the first two weeks of January when demand was at peak levels.

Mr Coveney said however that “the issue of preparing for winter requires honest conversations. This isn’t just the Government’s problems it’s everyone’s problem.”

He rejected the claim that Mr Varadkar had abused frontline staff.

He said the Taoiseach was honest and up-front about one of the problems in the health service in relation to the Christmas period where there was a challenge to ensure that senior team leaders were there in person at peak times.

Urgent report’

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary highlighted the highly critical comments by President of the High Court Mr Justice Peter Kelly about the serious flaws in the recruitment procedures for doctors in the wake of a case which highlighted the "most serious questions about patient safety".

Mr Calleary called for assurance that there would be no more “rogue doctors” in the health system after the case in which a non-consultant hospital doctor was suspended from a maternity hospital after consultants found he did not meet the basic standards and had never worked as a doctor in any other hospital. Consultants who worked with him said he did not even meet the basic standards.

“We need answers and guarantees that there are no more doctors of this calibre in the health services - that more have not got through,” Mr Calleary said.

Mr Calleary said that when the Taoiseach was minister for health a file was submitted to him about a doctor who worked in four hospitals despite concerns about his competence.

The HSE committed to establish a standardised policy to deal with references and Garda medical registration checks in March that year but more than two years later the situation had not changed.

The Tánaiste said Minister for Health Simon Harris had sought an urgent report from his department. Mr Coveney said the HSE had responsibility for doctor recruitment and hospital groups also assessed potential medical appointees.

The HSE is reviewing recruitment procedures and the review is due next year and it would deal with all concerns.

Mr Calleary said however that an “urgent report” was the standard reply in the hope that the Opposition and media would go away.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times