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HSE to examine claims mental health service whistleblower was ‘sidelined’

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Locum consultant psychiatrist Dr Ankur Sharma. Photo: Mark Condren

Locum consultant psychiatrist Dr Ankur Sharma. Photo: Mark Condren

Locum consultant psychiatrist Dr Ankur Sharma. Photo: Mark Condren

A SENIOR HSE official has said claims by the whistleblower in the scandal over inappropriate prescribing of medication to children, that he was “sidelined” and “undermined”, will be examined.

The raising of concerns by locum consultant psychiatrist Dr Ankur Sharma about the performance of a junior doctor at South Kerry Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) sparked the review which today found 227 children received “risky” treatment, with proof of “significant harm” in 46 cases.

Dr Sharma has claimed that such was his treatment after turning whistleblower, he was left with no other option but to resign from his role in South Kerry.

He subsequently went to work at another CAMHS service, but later decided to quit working for the HSE altogether, such was his disillusionment with how child mental health services were being run.

Michael Fitzgerald, head of Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare in the HSE, was quizzed about the alleged treatment of Dr Sharma on Radio Kerry this morning.

Initially, he declined to address the issue, saying: “I am certainly not going to get into talking about any individual. I don’t think that would be fair or appropriate in any way.”

Pressed by journalist Jerry O’Sullivan on whether Dr Sharma’s claims would be looked into by the HSE, he confirmed they would be.

“Of course. We have internal processes in the HSE to examine any and all of that. We are also bound, driven by legislation, in order to do so. So, there is no issue with regard to it,” said Mr Fitzgerald.

The senior HSE official said that as soon as concerns were raised by Dr Sharma in 2020, action was immediately taken to review 50 files.

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Mr Fitzgerald said he himself had later instigated a wider “look back” review of 1,300 South Kerry CAMHS files.

Kerry Sinn Féin TD Pa Daly had earlier called for the alleged treatment of Dr Sharma to be examined by HSE management, preferably from outside the area. He said a full inquiry may be needed.

“I compliment Dr Sharma for having the courage to challenge what he thought was wrong and about which it seems he was absolutely correct,” said Mr Daly.

“I am concerned that he felt a need to move on when he had done nothing wrong.”

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae also said he found the claims about Dr Sharma’s treatment concerning and would be raising the issue with HSE management.

Indian-born Dr Sharma has been highly critical of the manner in which the HSE responded to his concerns.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, he claimed that after a further discovery by him in March last year, 55 cases were “lost to follow-up”.

The “lost to follow-up” cases were ones where service users were prescribed various combinations of drugs, but no follow-up was ever done with them. Some continued to renew prescriptions for years without any review of their treatment being undertaken.

The “lost” cases were only uncovered after he ordered a manual review of files.

This followed “a chance phone call” from a mother asking about changing the time of the evening she gave a dose of Risperidone, an anti-psychotic drug, for her son.

It turned out the boy had been listed as “discharged” and his file archived.

Dr Sharma said that in the aftermath of discovering the 55 cases he pleaded for additional resources. However, he said the CAMHS team remained under-resourced.

He claims he was asked to take time off, was stripped of his role as clinical lead and reassigned to administrative duties on the basis he was in danger of burnout, even though he denied that he was.

Ultimately, he resigned as he felt his position was undermined.


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