Tuesday 10 December 2019

Chaos, collapse and denial as health watchdog sought answers

Ciaran Byrne

SACKS of unopened post clogged the mail room at Tallaght General Hospital. Letters from the state watchdog were simply not replied to and phone calls not returned.

The breakdown of communication at the hospital and the non-response of top executives to urgent inquiries from a standards watchdog is startling.

The chaotic management of the facility is laid bare in a series of letters obtained by the Irish Independent.

They show how Tallaght Hospital ignored two letters and a follow-up phone call, asking for urgent reports on the X-ray backlog, then cancelled several meetings to discuss it.

The letters were from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), which was set up in 2007 by Mary Harney to police standards.

It has limited powers of investigation but a source conceded yesterday: "Maybe we could have kicked down some doors -- but we didn't think we'd have to."

The HIQA's director of healthcare quality and safety, Jon Billings, first sent an email to his staff on April 24 last year, asking about concerns raised by a GP over "hundreds" of letters sitting unopened in the post room at Tallaght.

"In addition, he (the GP) highlighted concerns about a large backlog of radiology reporting at the hospital and has been told this runs to two years," wrote Mr Billings.


On May 8, the growing backlog in X-ray reporting was raised for the first time in a letter to Michael Lyons from Mr Billings. There was a meeting six weeks later and then another in August 2009.

At that time, there was a backlog of 4,000 unread X-rays. The figure came from Dr Conlon and Michael Lyons, the then chief executive of the hospital.

"At that meeting, the authority was given assurances that the backlog was being reduced," Mr Billings said yesterday.

The HIQA then wrote to the hospital on September 8 last year, seeking an update on the backlog, but received no reply.

It wrote to Tallaght officials, including Dr Conlon again, on October 15, repeating the request for information, but that letter was also ignored.

In November, the HIQA telephoned the chief executive and Dr Conlon, asking for information on the X-ray situation but it still got no results.

The HIQA last night confirmed it had asked for a report and "followed this up with letters to the chief executive in October and again in November 2009, repeating this request".

The October letter asked for answers "by close of business October 30" to concerns raised in the previous correspondence.

The HIQA said: "In December 2009, the former chief executive retired and the authority had immediate discussions with the new chief executive designate, Professor Kevin Conlon."

But there was still no meeting. In December, meetings were arranged to discuss the X-ray problems but these were cancelled by the hospital.

It wasn't until January 14 this year that the HIQA managed to get a meeting with Dr Conlon and he said he had just become aware of the 58,000 X-rays.

Irish Independent

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