Experts warned of risks in hospitals but 'were ignored'
Politicians at the highest level were warned about patient risks in a number of hospitals, including Portlaoise, two years before the problems were revealed nationally, a leading obstetrician has revealed.
Dr Chris Fitzpatrick said in 2011, as master of the Coombe Hospital in Dublin, he was among a group of doctors and managers from his own hospital as well Portlaoise and Mullingar hospitals who highlighted "a number of significant clinical risks across this network of hospitals".
He said: "We identified a number of critically important posts required to manage these risks."
Conscious of the funding constraints, the group put forward a proposal with several changes, presenting it to the "highest levels of authority", he told the Joint Committee on Health and Children yesterday. The group received no response.
Two years later a group of parents who lost babies in Portlaoise Hospital went public, sparking a major investigation.
Asked to respond to Dr Fitzpatrick's revelations, a spokesman for the Department of Health yesterday said that a delegation met with former Health Minister James Reilly in September 2011 in relation to staffing at the three hospitals.
The reality is that "all services were under pressure at the time and there were frequent requests for additional funding" the spokesman said.
"Many meetings were held with doctors who all were understandably vocal about their own facilities. However the priority at the time was to deliver the maximum level of safe services possible with reduced funding and staffing levels," he said.
Dr Fitzpatrick told the committee that risks highlighted in their 2011 report are still present throughout the country .
He said that during the boom years there was little, if any, investment in maternity services and when the economic crash came, the maternity services were exposed to systematic cuts. At the same time they had to absorb unprecedented levels of clinical activity, complexity and demographic change.
The fact that maternity units here perform so well, is due to clinical and support staff, local managers and other officials - not politicians, he insisted.