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Thursday 21 September 2017

Offer of government jet refused in liver op blunder

Aircraft could have flown girl to UK in time for vital surgery

Liver transplant patient Meadhbh McGivern with her parents, Joe and Assumpta
Liver transplant patient Meadhbh McGivern with her parents, Joe and Assumpta

Eilish O'Regan and Mark Hilliard

THE government jet bringing President McAleese home from the royal wedding in Monaco was available to transport a teenage patient to Britain for a vital liver transplant operation.

THE government jet bringing President McAleese home from the royal wedding in Monaco was available to transport a teenage patient to Britain for a vital liver transplant operation.

The offer of the jet, which landed at Baldonnel Airport in Dublin at 10.30pm on Saturday, was made to Health Service Executive (HSE) ambulance officials hours earlier by the Air Corps.

But Meadhbh McGivern (14) missed the crucial window for the operation after the HSE opted instead for a Coast Guard helicopter that was too slow to make the journey on time.

The government jet, which would have made the journey with time to spare, was one of four transport options to get the teenager from Ballinamore in Co Leitrim to King's College Hospital in London.

Meadhbh, described as "dangerously ill" by her family and on high dosages of painkillers, remained distraught yesterday as she tried to come to terms with being told on Saturday she would not make it on time.

As an inquiry was launched into the blunder, the HSE failed to explain why the helicopter was preferred over the faster government jet.

A catalogue of calls between several agencies and the family appeared to show a breakdown in communications among teams arranging transport.

It emerged yesterday that:

- HSE Ambulance Control was told an Air Corps jet, bringing the President home, and landing in Dublin, would be ready for her at 10.30pm.

- It could have picked up the family in Sligo and made it to London, where an ambulance was on standby to transport them to hospital.

- Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin sourced a private plane but was reportedly waiting funding approval. A spokeswoman for the hospital said funding was always made available for these kinds of emergencies.

- A high-level alert was issued for an RAF plane from the North or Britain but this was stood down.

- A Coast Guard helicopter was eventually arranged, but it was not ready for take off until 11pm and would not arrive in London until 3.30am.

Emergency Medical Support Services (EMSS), the company contracted by the HSE to work with its ambulance control in arranging transport, admitted last night a similar incident could happen again.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly yesterday contacted the family to apologise and ordered an inquiry to be carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority.

The HSE refused to comment on the incident and explain why its ambulance control appeared to have turned down the offer of the jet in favour of going on a fruitless search for alternative transport to get her to the hospital on time.

Last night in a statement the EMSS -- the emergency medical support service -- said it had successfully transported over 45 patients for Crumlin Children's Hospital since 1999 without "a single hitch".

On Saturday last it followed protocol as set out by the HSE for these situations.

The service said it had absolutely no contact with the Air Corps and all communication about the availability of an aircraft at 10.30pm on Saturday was with the HSE ambulance control.

Meadhbh's father Joe said last night he had lost confidence in the ability of the HSE to arrange proper transport for his daughter the next time she got the call from the hospital.

"It's the nature of the beast that people will just lie down and hope that things will just work. Well I won't and by God I will have my own arrangements in place next time," he told the Irish Independent.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he felt "absolutely distraught" as a parent in light of the experience of the McGivern family.

'Accuracy'

"I think it's fundamental that we find out the accuracy of what happened here which resulted in the little girl not being able to travel to London for her liver transplant and to put in place a system that makes sure that never happens again," he said.

Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin said doctors at King's College Hospital performed an assessment and then listed a child for transplant. Crumlin liaises with HSE Ambulance Control in relation to the transport of children abroad for transplant treatment.

When the HSE cannot provide transport -- through the Air Corps or Coast Guard -- the hospital hires commercial aircraft authorities to secure a private air ambulance.

Irish Independent

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