Sunday 19 November 2017

Minister Simon Harris 'stands over' report on University Hospital Waterford cardiac services

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Health Minister Simon Harris emphatically ruled out any immediate review of an independent report on Waterford cardiac services despite claims it was based on incorrect data.

Mr Harris insisted he "stands over" the independent report on University Hospital Waterford (UHW) cardiac services despite claims the expert who compiled it was supplied with data which included a near 50pc write-down on the hospital catchment area and that the critical UHW risk assessment rating was temporarily amended.

In a clear olive branch to furious UHW campaigners, Mr Harris vowed that all the funding recommendations in the report by Prof Niall Herity, a Belfast-based cardiologist, will be immediately fulfilled for Waterford.

This will include extra staff, new equipment for the UHW catherisation lab and resources for longer opening hours. Mr Harris also indicated that he will be visiting UHW shortly.

More than 2,000 people protested in Waterford city centre last weekend over the treatment of cardiac services at UHW. But Mr Harris stressed that Waterford will not get a second cath lab - though he said he was open to a review late next year to determine the success of the staff and equipment investments.

He was speaking at an event in Cork which was to have also been attended by Junior Minister and Waterford TD John Halligan. Mr Halligan cancelled the previous day after being unable to attend.

Mr Harris flatly dismissed calls for a full review of the independent report after it emerged UHW campaigner Kieran Hartley was lodging a formal complaint with Gardai over how the hospital's risk assessment rating was changed from 20 out of 25 to 16 out of 25.

UHW clinicians said they were "appalled" by the change which was not made in Waterford and which they were not aware of. But Mr Harris said he would not be diverted by "the chatter of local medical politics."

"You could not have got a more independent review than that of Prof Niall Herity. I have published that review in full. The review does suggest that there are a number of things that needs to happen in UHW.

"These are issues that the Government will address. It says there needs to be more staffing of the cath lab. It says very clearly that there needs to be new equipment in the cath lab.

"It says very clearly that the cath lab's opening hours need to be extended. But it just doesn't say there is a need for a second one (lab)."

Mr Harris warned he was not going to get dragged into a political row over UHW funding.

"I want to get on with making the improvements that Prof Herity recommends, investing in the hospital in Waterford. I look forward to visiting it in the coming weeks.

"Then, what I have said to the people of Waterford and I say it very clearly to them again - let us then look at the impact of those improvements on the volume and number of people using the cath lab.

"Let us review the situation next year to see if those improvements have changed the situation. But I have to be guided by independent clinical advice. If I am to start second-guessing independent cardiologists I think that would put our health service in a very perilous place. It is not something I am going to do."

Mr Harris said he was aware of the claims over critical data changes - but he insisted it did not impact on the independent report.

"I am trying to seek some clarity on this. I don't actually believe that the risk register has been changed at all in the last six months," he said.

"I believe the way that risk was categorised both at the hospital and at hospital group level may have been somewhat different.

"However I can say very clearly that this did not have an impact on Prof Herity's report. I have met Prof Herity - he went in independently as a clinical expert in this area, he engaged with clinicians in Waterford, he looked at all the data and he made his decision.

"I stand over the Prof Herity report and that is why I published it in full."

Mr Harris, when informed that some Waterford clinicians are now reviewing their positions given the treatment of UHW, said he expects everyone to work to support the healthcare system.

"I don't (have any information) other than I expect all our clinicians and all those in our health service to work as hard as they can in the interest of patients.

"I am sure they expect me, as a Minister for Health, to be guided in policy decisions that I make by the independent clinical advice available to me."

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