News Analysis

Friday 22 August 2014

Fionnuala McCarthy: This is what happens when an overstretched health service is inadequately funded

Fionnuala McCarthy

Published 13/02/2013 | 12:59

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The leaked contents of the report into Savita Halappanavar’s death make for uncomfortable reading.

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In the weeks following her death, much of the debate was taken up by abortion rights, and the State’s need to legislate.

But what the draft report by the Health Service Executive highlights so clearly are the effects of cutbacks on patients who enter our health service, which in the case of Savita Halappanavar, ended with her tragic passing.

The report ordered by Minister for Health James Reilly reveals what happens on the frontline when you take €1.75 billion out of a health service that was already struggling.

A clear picture is painted in the report of a frantic and overstretched hospital, where staff are too busy.

On the day that Savita presented with back pain at the hospital, a routine test carried out - which showed a possible blood infection - was never followed up by frontline staff.

The sample showed a white blood cell count four times higher than the normal range.

A registrar thought a junior doctor was following up on the tests.

The junior doctor thought the registrar was following up.

Clearly both were too busy attending to patients to have a conversation on it.

A concerned nurse requested Savita be seen by a doctor at 10 pm on her third day in hospital. He finally got to see her, three hours later, at 1am.

That health service is under resourced is a fact and not a supposition. Staff levels in our service in the past six years have been reduced by 8,700.

And, more worrying still, the health service is to lose a further 3,300 staff, who are due to retire before the end of next month, and half of those are medical and nursing staff.

The draft of this report are a clear indication to James Reilly of what happens when you implement too many cuts.

Staff cut corners with their time and efforts, not because they want to, but because they have to.

Yes, the state must act and bring in abortion legislation, but it also must act to ensure that our health service is sufficiently funded so a tragedy like Savita Halappanavar’s death never happens again and that more people in our hospitals do not die because they have received inadequate care.

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