Wednesday 21 February 2018

Ex-Tallaght Hospital chair 'disappointed' at criticisms

MAEVE SHEEHAN

A former chairman of Tallaght Hospital's board said he is "disappointed" in a damning report that said patients were put at risk due to the State's failure to hold the hospital to account.

The report -- by health watchdog the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) -- raised serious concerns over patients waiting on trolleys for long periods and criticised the hospital's governance.

However, Alan Gillis, a former Fine Gael MEP who served on Tallaght's board for 10 years, said the report was "harsh" and failed to take into account the difficulties facing management.

He also said patients waiting on trolleys for treatment was "never acceptable" and he "constantly complained" about it.

"During this period we had acting chief executives for about four years and it was very, very difficult, we were working under severe financial constraints, we were always a little bit outside the budget, we were striving and struggling to stay within budget, but there always seemed to be demands, as there always is in a hospital," he said.

"The whole governance of the hospital becomes very difficult when you are overloaded all the time and everyone is under pressure all the time."

The Hiqa report found a litany of failures of governance and leadership in its investigation of patient safety in the emergency department. It also referred financial concerns to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

These included €1.8m spent on management consultants -- in breach of tendering rules -- when the hospital was facing a deficit of €5.8m and top-up payments to senior staff, which were not adequately recorded. Five senior staff were paid top-ups totalling €739,000 in five years.

Mr Gillis said yesterday that he signed off on one 'top-up' payment for Michael Lyons, the former chief executive, but could not recollect the exact amount.

"It was a question that you were either going to give him a top-up or he was going somewhere else," Mr Gillis said.

The top-ups were paid through the hospital's foundation.

Mr Gillis also said the board learned of the €1.8m cost of a consultancy firm after it was already a done deal. He said he "raised it very strongly on the board at the time".

He also defended the hospital's attitude to patient care, which was questioned in Hiqa's report. At one committee meeting in May last year, the care of patients was discussed under "any other business" at the end of the meeting.

Mr Gillis said: "I can tell you whatever impression is given in the report by someone looking in from the outside, patient safety was one of the common themes of discussion practically at every board meeting," he said.

Mr Gillis and the rest of the board were replaced in August. "I was putting in about three-and-a-half and four days a week and that was purely voluntary work," he said.

"For the vast, vast bulk of it there were no expenses. I didn't want expenses anyway. My only ambition was to drive the hospital forward."

The Hiqa report made 76 recommendations and the hospital's new chief executive Eilis Hardiman has pointed to the progress in implementing many of them.

In a commitment to transparency, the hospital's board meetings are to be open to the public from September.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health James Reilly is to call in hospital chiefs to discuss the findings and the Department of Health has referred the report to regulatory bodies the Medical Council and An Bord Altranais.

Sunday Independent

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