Highlighting hospital failures makes it hard to recruit staff, says Varadkar
Hospitals suffering "bad press" and a poor reputation for emergency department overcrowding face the biggest difficulties recruiting staff, Health Minister Leo Varadkar has warned in unpublished correspondence.
Mr Varadkar was responding to outspoken Tallaght Hospital emergency consultant James Gray, who emailed the minister and senior executives in recent months to highlight "grossly dangerous" conditions, including having a 91-year-old on a trolley for more than nine hours.
The minister acknowledged the difficulties faced by patients and pointed to the extra investment in tackling overcrowding.
But he said the hospitals that were regularly in the headlines created a "vicious cycle" for themselves. He added that, on investigation, some stories regarding patients turned out untrue.
"I am a strong supporter of patient advocacy and will always defend it but I know what it is and what it is not."
He said he fully appreciated Dr Gray's frustration and concerns for patient welfare.
He asked the hospital chief executive and the clinical director in Tallaght to meet Dr Gray to discuss his proposals for solving the problems.
It provoked a strongly worded reply from Dr Gray in a letter obtained by the Irish Independent.
He said sweeping failures under the carpet in order to "shore up" institutional reputation amounted to a "false veneer".
He added: "We all need to focus on addressing the failures that exist and not the highlighting of those failures in the public domain.
"I have a duty to disclose the substandard environment and delayed care for any patient, as a patient advocate."
He warned it was "only a matter of time" before a patient died or suffered serious illness if the level of dangerous overcrowding was not reduced.
The minister, who has since met Dr Gray and Tallaght Hospital management, did not include it on his tour of six emergency departments yesterday but intends to visit there in the future.
The ER tour included Naas Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, Portiuncula Hospital and the Mater, St James's and Beaumont in Dublin.
Staff shortages in Beaumont and Drogheda hospitals have meant that not all beds were open, despite the pressures.
Dr Gray told the Irish Independent that a large part of the emergency department in Tallaght Hospital, including eight bays, remains idle due to ongoing negotiations to secure more nursing staff.
HSE chief Tony O' Brien said yesterday that hospitals would be assessed to see whether they should be fined for not operating an escalation policy when emergency departments reached a particular level of overcrowding.
The €10,000 fine can be imposed if they do not trigger measures such as discharging patients and not admitting people from waiting lists.
A spokesman for Tallaght Hospital said it had started a phased opening of its expanded emergency department.
He insisted the emergency department patient experience times had improved by 20pc since September 2015.
This was despite a 2pc increase in emergency department attendances.