The Irish Times view on patient advocacy: cause for concern

A model will have to be found to allow for effective and sustainable patient representation in the health system

Mark Molloy, who has stepped down from the HSE board after only seven months, has with his wife Róisín campaigned for greater accountability in the health service for many years. Photograph: Eric Luke

Mark Molloy, who has stepped down from the HSE board after only seven months, has with his wife Róisín campaigned for greater accountability in the health service for many years. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Patients are the reason the health service exists, so the resignation of a patient advocate from the board of the Health Service Executive (HSE) is an obvious cause for concern. Mark Molloy, who has stepped down from the board after only seven months, has with his wife Róisín Molloy campaigned for greater accountability in the health service for many years. Their advocacy was born out of their frustration at the obstacles placed in their way when trying to find out why their son Mark died in Portlaoise hospital in 2012. Through their work, it emerged other babies had also suffered as a result of clinical failings at the hospital.

Mark Molloy’s resignation comes as difficulties have emerged in other areas of health in relation to patient representation, in particular the cervical cancer screening programme. Some patient advocates have argued that the model of representation is broken, with proper funding needed to support patients who make great time and financial sacrifices to help improve health services.

The patient voice remains a minnow in a health service dominated by vested interests and politically-driven motivations. It is also true that members of a board do not enjoy individual vetoes on decisions, and may at times have to stomach difficult decisions in relation to the allocation of resources.

But it is also concerning that so little has been heard from the HSE board since it was reconstituted in the middle of 2019. Its establishment was delayed for almost a year, in part because the Government originally proposed appointing only one patient representative – and not the two recommended by Dr Gabriel Scally in his CervicalCheck report – but it eventually met for the first time last summer under the chairmanship of Ciaran Devane.

The Molloys believe they can continue their advocacy more strongly “on the outside”. They may have a point, in terms of enjoying greater independence to speak their minds, but a model will still have to be found to allow for effective and sustainable patient representation in the system.

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