Saturday 1 October 2016

Patients must be able to trust their doctors

Published 30/01/2016 | 02:30

'Patients must be able to trust their doctors'
'Patients must be able to trust their doctors'

Our scars are supposed to be a constant reminder of painful lessons, but sometimes it appears that bitter experience is not enough. There have been several cases in recent years which brought the competence of doctors into question, and the checks needed to guarantee care.

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This week, a doctor who did not appear to be able to differentiate an X-ray of an ankle from that of an elbow raised new questions about confidence in our health system.

Dr Omar Hassan was found guilty of professional misconduct at the Medical Council. There was real public concern when it emerged that he had managed to work at three hospitals. Today, we reveal he worked at a fourth.

Dr Hassan will be dealt with by his profession in due course. But the real worry is how our health system facilitated his movement from hospital to hospital. With such critical issues of competence at stake, core questions about the oversight of the qualifications of doctors must be answered.

Despite being put on leave in Galway in early 2014 , a full year lapsed before a complaint was made to the Medical Council. Bill Prasifka, the council's chief executive, said a number of senior doctors were not prepared to raise concerns about incompetent colleagues. This cannot be tolerated - their reticence could be putting patients at risk.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has ordered the HSE to hold a review of policies as a result of the Dr Hassan case. A review is well and good but it must result in radical change.

The HSE and the Department of Health have been the targets of sustained criticism. A litany of failures are routinely batted away on the grounds of a lack of resources and increasing demands. But key competence failures should not arise. Patients must be able to trust their doctors.

Whatever faults one hears about strain on the system producing delays, a general belief holds that once a patient actually gets so far as being treated, standards of critical care are comparable with the best. The Minister for Health must guarantee that no shortcuts are taken or no qualifications are compromised due to pressures within the system.

Inquiry censoring its own language is disheartening

'This isn't Hamlet, you know. It's not meant to go into the bloody ear." These were apparently the last words spoken by actor Laurence Olivier after his nurse spilled water all over him. The more one learns about the Banking Inquiry, the more one wonders how much of it too was intended to linger in the ear. The latest revelation that Fianna Fáil members managed to have references to the Galway Races excised is perplexing.

We knew that the inquiry had been hopelessly constrained by its inability to make adverse findings but the news that it actually censored its own language is profoundly disheartening. The inquiry's remit was to serve the public interest, not that of a political party.

The kind of plain language used by ordinary people impacted by these catastrophic events, terms like "greed, negligence, laziness, incompetence and ignorance", was also removed. If ever there was a unique opportunity to reassure the public that politicians can rise above partisanship in the national interest, even if it means facing unpalatable truths, then this was it. The finger could be pointed at outside agencies such as the European Central Bank but closer to home a much broader brush of blame had to be applied.

Irish Independent

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