HSE chief kept in the dark
Drumm hits out at 'appalling' failure to read referral letters
Published 15/03/2010 | 05:00
HEALTH Service Executive chief Brendan Drumm was kept in the dark about the Tallaght Hospital X-ray scandal for months by his own officials.
Prof Drumm broke his silence yesterday to say he only heard about the 58,000 X-rays unread by radiologists last Tuesday when the story broke -- despite the fact that the HSE gave Tallaght Hospital €200m of taxpayers' money this year.
However, a health service spokesperson confirmed yesterday that the local HSE office which oversees the Tallaght region knew about it as early as last December.
The revelation brings failures in the HSE's own internal reporting systems into the spotlight.
Moreover, up to 3,500 GP referral letters requesting appointments for patients had not been dealt with by last October and some had been with the hospital for seven years.
Prof Drumm described the failure to read the referral letters as "appalling" and said there should be serious consequences if staff had instructed that they be left untouched.
When asked how much the HSE had known about the unread X-rays, a spokesperson for the HSE told the Irish Independent yesterday: "Requests were made to local management for resources to help deal with the backlog.
"The questions that you ask are valid and I expect that the independent inquiry will be looking into these matters."
The spokesperson confirmed that the HSE local office which oversees the Tallaght region had regular verbal updates on how the hospital had been managing the crisis since December.
Prof Drumm conceded that if a whistleblower had not brought the issue into the public domain, it would have taken significantly more time for him to become aware of it and it would not be the centre of a proposed inquiry.
He added that any patients whose X-rays had not been properly read in other hospitals would be contacted as part of a national audit now under way.
When asked if similar problems could be taking place elsewhere, he said: "Anything could happen. I would reassure people that several X-rays will be appropriately read by clinicians others than radiologists.
"The question we are asking is 'were there X-rays out there that should have been read by radiologists that were not?' And if that is happening we will contact the patients and make everyone aware of it publicly," Prof Drumm told RTE's 'This Week' programme.
He said they would also examine if other hospitals had left letters of referral unopened.
There are hospitals which send out an acknowledgement to GPs of referral letters and those who do not, he said.
The HSE chief said he hoped the inquiry into Tallaght would be finished within three months and that he intended to appoint an independent chairman this week.
Prof Drumm added that Tallaght, as a voluntary hospital with its own board, did not have to answer to the HSE -- and that legislation would be required for the health service to have more power over voluntary organisations.
He said he was unaware of any requests from Tallaght to secure more staff in the radiology department.
Meanwhile, the board of Tallaght Hospital is expected to meet today for the first time since the revelations.
Chairman Lyndon MacCann and the other 21 members have so far failed to answer questions about the board's role in the crisis.
Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly accused Prof Drumm of doing a Pontius Pilate act and trying to wash his hands of responsibility for the crisis.