Monday 26 September 2016

Halligan isolated in quest for new review at Waterford hospital

Niall O'Connor, EIlish O'Regan, Ralph Riegel and Michael Cogley

Published 10/09/2016 | 02:30

John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke
John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke

Junior Minister John Halligan is under mounting pressure to quit Government or drop his demand for an immediate second review into cardiac services at Waterford General Hospital.

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Several members of the Independent Alliance have privately voiced concerns that Mr Halligan's campaign for a second cath lab in his constituency has damaged their standing in the eyes of voters.

A large number of Fine Gael ministers and backbenchers also believe the saga is proving to be a serious distraction.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged Mr Halligan and other ministers to start "applying themselves". He told reporters: "I'd like for everyone to apply themselves to their jobs and we have a big responsibility in uncertain times."

Such is the level of frustration among his colleagues, several Independent sources confirmed they would be prepared for Mr Halligan Inset below) to leave government rather than allow the matter to drag on.

Mr Halligan, a minister for State at the Department of Jobs, was due to consult his supporters this weekend over his future in Government.

He has received strong backing from senior medical staff at the hospital, who are themselves seeking a meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris to provide him with the comprehensive evidence they believe exists for a second catheterisation (cath) laboratory.

The doctors say they disagree with the findings of an independent review by Dr Niall Herity, which said there is not merit for a second cath lab.

Waterford cardiologist Dr Patrick Owens said the report's scope was too narrow and did not take into account the risks to patients who are on waiting lists because of demands on the current cath lab services.

He also said the calculations used in relation to patient flow skewed the findings. This is because it did not include the patients who must travel to Dublin and Cork from the south east because they cannot be admitted to Waterford.

Referring to recommendations that the cath lab in Waterford no longer provides percutaneous coronary artery intervention (PCI) to widen the arteries in patients, including heart attack victims, and move the service to Cork, he said the reasoning was again flawed.

Defended

Dr Herity yesterday defended the report and said it was carried out in a independent and dispassionate manner.

He also said the fact the lab is open from nine to five does not make a difference.

"The vast majority of work done in cath labs is pre-planned, done on a nine-to-five basis," Mr Herity told RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland'.

"96pc of the work done in Waterford is pre-planned, with 4pc emergency work. Only a tiny amount of cath lab work is done out of hours," he added.

Dr Herity said the cath lab was not performing the minimum number of at least 100 a year to make it sustainable.

But Dr Owens said it carried out 62 of these procedures during its 9-5 opening hours last year and another 77 patients had to be treated in Cork out of hours.

Threshold

If they were allowed longer opening hours they would easily reach the 100 case threshold, he said.

As Mr Halligan remained in government, the issue continued to dominate the politic cycle. Senior Government sources rejected calls for an immediate second review.

Health Minister Simon Harris is said to be "not for budging" and is instead open to reviewing services at Waterford in the new year.

In the meantime, the recommendations for increased resources, staff and facilities will be implemented.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, who previously held the health portfolio, warned that it would be a major step backwards to allow politics to again become involved in critical health decisions.

Meanwhile, his Cabinet colleague Simon Coveney rejected suggestions the Government is lurching towards a general election. "What I would say to people is look at what's in the programme for government in writing which is what John agreed to and what we agreed," he said.

Mr Halligan did not responded to calls last night.

Irish Independent

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