A cynical response


PUBLIC SCANDAL can take different forms. Gross waste of taxpayers’ money is a failure that can be corrected. Abuse of positions of trust and financially corrupt behaviour by those in authority strike at the heart of good governance and are seriously damaging. But mistreatment of exceptionally vulnerable citizens by the State and a cynical manipulation of public opinion to their detriment are corrosive of all that democracy holds precious.

Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis in the world. Despite that, young people have been subjected to decades of medical neglect that, in most cases, contributed to their untimely deaths. Life expectancy here is a full 10 years lower than in Britain or the US, largely because of the wretched quality of medical treatment and hospital care provided. Specifically, patients with cystic fibrosis who are particularly susceptible to infection have not been provided with isolation facilities and adequate en suite hospital accommodation.

Two years ago, following intense political pressure, Minister for Health Mary Harney and the Health Service Executive (HSE) announced that a special 120 bed facility, with 30 en suite rooms, would be built at St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin to cater for these patients. Then, last year, the HSE said it didn’t have the money to go ahead and the project would be delayed until “at least 2011”. The public outcry that resulted led Ms Harney to declare that an alternative funding approach involving builders and banks could deliver the facility as promised.

Given the economic circumstances at the time, this newspaper questioned the credibility of that initiative. Difficulties in the provision of bank funding have since caused a reappraisal of tenders by St Vincent’s hospital and consequential delay. In addition, there is no certainty the HSE remains financially committed to the early completion of the construction project.

Orla Tinsley is a young woman with cystic fibrosis. For the past five years, she has campaigned vigorously for the provision of specially trained staff and for sterile, en suite hospital facilities to cater for people with her condition. While receiving urgent medical treatment at St Vincent’s hospital this week, she wrote about her frustration that the designated site for the new facility remains empty. Patients with cystic fibrosis continue to be exposed to life-threatening cross-infection. It is an appalling situation. The Government’s response to the needs of such young people has not only been cruelly inadequate, it would also appear to be deeply cynical.