Saturday 19 January 2019

Anti-abortion psychiatrist should not have used HSE notepaper to contact TDs - HSE chief

HSE Director General Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
HSE Director General Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

A psychiatrist should not have used HSE-headed notepaper to write to TDs asking them to resist the pressure to repeal the Eighth Amendment, HSE chief Tony O’Brien said today.

Mr O’Brien said the HSE must remain neutral in the abortion debate.

The letter asked TDs to “resist the pressure to yield to populism and specious arguments, and to give your support for retention of the constitutional protection of the unborn”.

The doctor said that “allowing maternal distress and mental illness as an excuse for abortion, is a proven formula for abortion-on demand up to birth”.

Questioned about the letter at the Oireachtas health committee today Mr O’ Brien said he became aware of the letter yesterday and had spoken to the psychiatrist about proper procedure.

While HSE staff are entitled to personal views they cannot use the HSE’s corporate identity to promote it, he added.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris who was tackled on the record numbers on hospital trolleys said:”I am not, and no one in Government or the HSE, is claiming that the difficulties which arise immediately after New Year are unpredictable.

“That is why we had detailed plans and extra resources in place but we still encountered a surge that was extremely challenging for the system.

“So there’s a difference between predictable and avoidable, and if we are to achieve the latter it means breaking the cycle of overcrowding and that won’t be done by any one year’s winter plan. “

He said as part of Budget 2018, an extra €30m was made available to respond to winter pressures in 2017, with a further €40m being provided in 2018.

This investment is aimed at alleviating pressures in our EDs during the winter period, includes increased access to homecare, transitional care and diagnostics along with additional bed capacity, and is having an impact.

In 2017, ED attendances were up 2.8pc or over 34,000 patients on 2016, including a 5.6pc increase in ED attendances by people over 75.

“Within this context of increasing demand, HSE data indicates that at the end of December 2017 there had been 2.6pc or 2,517 less patients waiting on trolleys in 2017, compared to 2016.

“This signals that the system, based upon the measures being implemented at all levels, is showing incremental improvement within a challenging operational environment,” he claimed.

Unfortunately, despite the intensive efforts of staff, management and the HSE through the course of the winter, since the beginning of January this year we have seen a rise of 8.4pc in the number of patients waiting on trolleys. 

This reflects an increase of 5.6pc in the numbers attending EDs (that is, 1,247 more patients being seen) as well as a continued increase in the age and complexity of patients requiring admission.

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