Fresh claims over cardiac review won't stop Halligan backing Budget
Junior Minister John Halligan is expected to back the Budget, despite fresh claims that the review into cardiac services at Waterford Hospital was subject to undue influence from the Department of Health.
A briefing note prepared by officials just days after Mr Halligan agreed to support Enda Kenny's election as Taoiseach said the funding of a second cath lab in Waterford would be "wasteful of very limited resources" and could "potentially compromise patient safety".
The departmental note formed part of a briefing document prepared for an independent medical expert who was appointed to review services at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) as part of the deal which secured Mr Halligan's support for the Government.
Elements of the May 27 briefing note and terms of reference given for the review were initially redacted from release over the past two months.
However, the Irish Independent has seen the full briefing note, which was released to the Independent Alliance TD on Friday.
Details of the redacted section sparked concerns that Mr Halligan could again threaten to withdraw his support from Government - but sources last night indicated that while he is unhappy with how the process was handled he is not at the point of quitting.
The redacted section of the note states that the HSE did not view the provision of a second cath lab as a top investment priority.
"It is understood that the priority of the group is to upgrade decontamination facilities, theatres, intensive care facilities and staffing, and to ensure that the infrastructure across the group is Hiqa compliant," it said.
In a statement last night, Mr Halligan said the contents of the previously unseen paragraph show "there was serious departmental interference in what was supposed to be a fully independent review of cardiology services in the south-east".
"The result has been a flawed and incomplete report recommending investment which would have little impact on the current service provision," he said.
He claimed both the Department of Health and the HSE attempted to influence the outcome of Dr Herity's review.
"I have spoken to Minister for Health Simon Harris this evening and he has agreed to come to Waterford to listen to the views of local consultants and seek a way to move forward on the issue," he confirmed.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris said the note reflected the position of the Department and the HSE on the matter ahead of the autonomous review that was conducted by Belfast-based Prof Niall Herity.
The spokesperson described that study as "thorough and independent", adding that Prof Herity had consulted with a broad range of stakeholders.
Speaking previously, Dr Herity told RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland' that he had no conflict of interest and carried out his work in an objective, dispassionate manner.
His report recommended extra staff, equipment and opening hours for the UHW cardiac unit - but he did not endorse a second cath lab.
It is understood Mr Harris has given a commitment to visit UHW.
UHW campaigner Kieran Hartley claimed the note was clear proof the Waterford hospital was never going to be given the promised second lab.
"Fine Gael could promise whatever they liked. But the Department of Health and HSE clearly never wanted a second cath lab in Waterford," he said.
Mr Hartley said the determination to prevent UHW getting the second cath lab was borne out by the fact that its catchment area was later understated from 520,000 to 280,000 and its critical cardiac risk rating was changed without UHW's knowledge.
The risk rating, the most critical assessment of a hospital's status, was changed from 20 out of 25 to 16 out of 25.
A Garda investigation into the risk rating change is now under way after a formal complaint was lodged by Mr Hartley. The HSE has rejected the allegations.
One senior UHW consultant told the Irish Independent the latest revelations were "deeply worrying".