Thursday 29 September 2016

Re-arranging the deck chairs is no good unless HSE is taken to task

Published 13/07/2015 | 02:30

Hardly a week goes by when its handling of patient care, funding or complaints does not take some sort of battering
Hardly a week goes by when its handling of patient care, funding or complaints does not take some sort of battering

Another round of criticism of the HSE. So what else is new, the public might well ask. Hardly a week goes by when its handling of patient care, funding or complaints does not take some sort of battering.

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But today's revelations take on a new tone because they do not come from patients, staff or a watchdog, but from Health Minister Leo Varadkar and the highest level in the Department of Health.

Despite the united front, the internal letters and memos disclose how they were frustrated in getting patient-safety information from the HSE.

They are also hugely sceptical of the HSE's ability to learn from tragic mistakes.

The correspondence seen by the Irish Independent is both worrying and welcome at the same time. The worrying aspect is that behind the public statements and pledges about change and improvement in the wake of Portlaoise Hospital and other scandals, there is resistance and drift.

But at least there is some reassurance in the evidence that the minister and the department appear to be getting tough with the HSE and calling it to task.

The correspondence shows that from July to October last year the HSE was failing to comply with an instruction from the Department of Health to provide monthly reports stating what was being done to overhaul patient safety in Portlaoise Hospital, where five babies had died.

This seems quite extraordinary, given the unrelenting state of public anxiety about standards at the hospital, the promises to parents and the fact that the HSE was being investigated by Hiqa.

But while Portlaoise Hospital is the most high-profile example, it is clear that information on patient-safety incidents in other hospitals was also not being passed on.

It points to serious gaps in communication between the HSE and the Department of Health.

The HSE was involved in yet another shake-up of top managerial posts last year to improve its delivery. It is part of a seemingly eternal revamp of the highest ranks of the organisation, which sees regular changes of long-winded titles and responsibilities. Beneath them are more layers of committees and groups.

What is clear is that this will just amount to another rearranging of deck-chairs and another cosmetic exercise unless it becomes properly accountable.

Irish Independent

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