'Ward closure could kill my son'
Cutbacks at Crumlin Children's Hospital will mean longer waiting times for young patients
The news that Crumlin Children's hospital is to close one of its operating theatres from tomorrow and one of its wards from Wednesday is a potential death sentence to some of the country's sickest children, according to their worried parents.
Our Lady's Hospital for sick Children, Crumlin has been the last hope for many sick children and the closure of beds means many of the most vulnerable will be at significantly higher risk.
Aisling McNiffe from Dublin is mother to Jack, aged 4, who has Down's Syndrome but also suffers from several other rare conditions. Jack has spent most of his short life on wards in Crumlin.
He is the only child in Ireland to suffer from the rare degenerative disease Cinca (Chronic infantile neurological, cutaneous, and articular syndrome) and during his lengthy stays in Crumlin has contracted four hospital infections, including MRSA and CDiff.
He also suffers from elevated brain pressure and is likely to need brain surgery to relieve that pressure or risk going blind or deaf. His condition is so grave that he hasn't spent more than three months out of the hospital, and according to Aisling, the ward closure and the shutting of the operating theatre is a potential death sentence to her young son.
Not only has she and her family had to struggle to cope with the constant trauma of having to take care of such a sick child, but Aisling now has to contend with the quality of the care being given to Jack being adversely affected.
She told the Sunday Independent: "Jack is so sick, he has spent so much time in Crumlin. The longest single spell he spent in there was a year. He has to be in an isolation room but the closure of the ward and operating theatre means the care being given to Jack and others like him is being badly affected."
Jack has been home for a couple of months but will need further cardiac surgery but Aisling says the ward closures will have a massive impact on already-lengthy waiting times, which could have deadly consequences for young Jack.
"It is incredibly worrying for us. He has already had two cardiac surgeries and he needs a third. The wards are always full and these closures put Jack's life at risk because the waiting times for surgery are set to double.
"It is a very real threat that he could die waiting to be treated," Aisling said.
The anxiety of Aisling and scores of other parents has also been heightened by the news that, given budgetary pressure, a second operating theatre and ward are set to be closed for the summer.
HSE sources at the hospital confirmed that further closures are being considered.
A hospital spokesperson said: "In order to operate within its financial allocation for 2009, the Board of OLCHC has implemented a Breakeven Plan. This plan requires the closure of 25 inpatient beds, closure of one theatre and reduction in outpatient activity. The re-opening of this service capacity will be dependent on the hospital's financial allocation in 2010 and beyond.
"One theatre which will close from next week caters for all types of surgery and procedures, with the exception of cardiac surgery. By closing this theatre approximately 10 per cent of theatre activity will be cancelled. That's around 1,000 cases."
"I see the politicians driving around in their big cars, and I see this new €60m bridge arriving into Dublin and I wonder about the priorities of this government. My child could die and we are terrified," says Aisling.
Local politicians have been inundated with phonecalls and letters of concern from the families of the Crumlin patients, but there has been no reversal of the closures.