Taoiseach pledges his 'full trust' in Harney despite X-ray controversy
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night reiterated his "full confidence" in embattled Health Minister Mary Harney -- but refused to be drawn on whether she will survive his upcoming reshuffle.
Mr Cowen gave his backing to Ms Harney as the board of Tallaght Hospital met for the first time since the scandal of unread X-rays and unopened referral letters erupted last week.
The 22-member board is under fire for its failure to ensure the hospital was better managed and for not stepping in sooner to protect patients.
Up to 58,000 X-rays went unread by radiologists for four years and nearly 3,500 referral letters from GPs asking for appointments for patients were unread by last October.
A spokesperson for the hospital said last night that 1,414 people had now called its helpline and 1,240 have received a reply. Another 137 had yet to be contacted with their results.
However, the spokesperson was unable to say if any more cases of delayed diagnosis -- other than the two already known of -- had come to light during X-ray re-checks, which will continue until May.
The board was locked in discussion from 6pm yesterday amid calls from doctors and TDs for the resignation of its chairman Lyndon MacCann.
There were clear signals of problems in the hospital in April and December of last year when it received a "red light" score from the HSE as part of its performance league tables.
These tables measure the performance of hospitals based on a range of criteria including waiting lists, the mix of public and private patients treated, and how funding is used.
Mr Cowen confirmed yesterday he had spoken with Ms Harney since she left for New Zealand on March 6 for a 15-day trip but denied she had offered to return home early to deal with the controversy.
When asked if the minister had offered to return home, Mr Cowen said their conversations had centred on the need to do "everything possible" for the patients affected.
"No, the issue was about, basically, my discussion with Minister Harney about what had emerged and how it was being handled," Mr Cowen said.
The Taoiseach also refused to be drawn on whether Ms Harney would feature in next week's cabinet reshuffle, saying he was "not getting into any of that with anybody".
However, he very firmly added: "She has my full confidence."