Thursday 29 September 2016

Taoiseach called on to allow emergency debate into latest HIQA report into babies' deaths at Portlaoise Hospital

Daniel McConnell, Group Political Correspondent

Published 12/05/2015 | 16:38

The Midlands General Hospital, Portlaoise
The Midlands General Hospital, Portlaoise

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been called on to allow an emergency debate into the latest demining HIQA report into the deaths of babies at Portlaoise Hospital.

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During Leaders’ Questions in the Dail, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin referred to a December 2012 internal HSE email, which warned of “other cases that are as sad and as serious arising out of other sites around the country.”

Mr Martin said under Dail privilege that such warning had been “supressed” while the safety of young babies were placed at risk.

The email, seen by Independent.ie, shows that senior HSE management were aware of serious deficiencies in care standards at Portlaoise Hospital and at other hospitals months before several families went public.

The email, sent by the HSE’s National Incident Management Team (NIMT) to HSE National Director Quality and Patient Safety Division, Philip Crowley, warned that “high rates of harm” evidenced at Portlaoise were “reflective of what is occurring” elsewhere.

“The NIMT is aware of numerous sad and serious cases occurring at all HSE sites,” the email said.

Mr Martin said the report painted a “shocking, appalling vista” as to the standards of care at Portlaoise Hospital.

He said there were failures at local, regional and national level and said the HSE “attempted to supress the report”.

The Fianna Fail leader, who is a former health minister, begged the question as to why adequate resources were not allocated to Portlaoise.

Responding to Mr Martin, a sombre Mr Kenny urged members not to make a political issue out of such a “sensitive and serious” matter.

“No one wants to engage in political point scoring here. I know that is not what deputy Martin is pointing out here. There are five little babies who are no longer with us,” Mr Kenny said.

Mr Kenny said this is an appalling tragedy for the families of the five babies and he paid tribute to their resilience in bringing the issue to light.

The Taoiseach said that this was the seventh HIQA report into deficiencies and that there will always be cases where adverse incidents arise in hospitals but that they must be minimised as much as possible.

He said Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who was sitting beside him during the exchanges in the Dail, must carefully reflect on the findings of the HIQA report.

Mr Kenny said that already many things have changed and improved at Portlaoise.

He did not address Mr Martin’s charge as to the suppression of the report.

Last week, Mr Varadkar said he accepted in full the HIQA findings and recommendations.

The HIQA inquiry followed an RTÉ Investigations Unit report last year into the deaths of five babies at the hospital.

He described some of the stories in the report as "really awful" and said there was no excuse for a lack of honesty or compassion, or lack of teamwork, things which did not cost money and were about professional standards.

The 208 page report criticised not only the maternity services but says the Intensive Care Unit is not fit for purpose and has raised questions about the Emergency Department.

HIQA said it cannot conclude that services at the hospital are safe.

The report did not name people and there are no findings against individuals.

It recommended a separate patient advocacy group from the HSE, to ensure patients' experiences are recorded, listened to and learned from.

Also at Leaders’ Questions, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams called on the Taoiseach to clarify the Government’s position as to the failure of Irish banks to pass on variable interest rate cuts to customers.

He referred to a report from the Central Bank, commissioned by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, which reportedly argued against forcing the banks to pass on the cuts to customers.

Mr Kenny confirmed the report arrived at the Department of Finance last night, but as Mr Noonan is in Brussels, he has not yet seen or read it. Mr Kenny said the Government was unhappy as the unwillingness of the banks to pass on the rate cut.

He said the situation was “unacceptable.”

Mr Adams said it was incredible the Taoiseach had not seen the report. Mr Kenny said as the Minister commissioned the report, it was right and proper that he would see it first.

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