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Sam Smyth: Send in clowns as CF patients let down again

IF you suffer from cystic fibrosis, you might welcome the newly minted Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition with a bitter joke: same circus, different clowns.

And his statement reneging on promises for a new 34-bed national centre to treat the condition would designate Dr James Reilly as Bozo, the world's most famous red-nose joker.

The Health Minister outlined his plans on Tuesday night -- but he will only make 20 beds available in a new unit currently under construction.

According to the best advice available, the new unit due to be completed at Dublin's St Vincent's hospital, in 2012, will be overwhelmed before it opens the doors.

At this stage, it can only be planned obsolescence when best international medical practice says that it will be unable to accommodate the number of patients it is being built to treat.

The new unit needs 34 individual units to care for the current number of adult CF sufferers, according to the international consultants, but Dr Reilly is delivering just 20 beds.

In his statement, the minister would shame Pontius Pilate: "It is a matter for the hospital to decide on the use and designation of rooms based on the clinical needs of patients."

In other words, says Dr Reilly, sort it out among yourselves.

After reading Dr Reilly's proposals yesterday, one eminent physician said: "It flies in the face of best clinical practice."

The Republic of Ireland has the highest number of patients per head of population and the strain of CF is the most virulent in the world.

And cystic fibrosis sufferers here endure the most primitive hospital conditions in Europe, although the medical care is world class.

The Medical and Scientific Council of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland said that population centres with severe levels of cystic fibrosis need more than five inpatient rooms for each 50 patients.

And that means 34-dedicated isolation beds are needed for the national cystic fibrosis centre at St Vincent's hospital in Dublin.

To be fair, the clowns in the Fianna Fail-PD coalition refused to agree to provide a new 34-bed CF unit on the eve of the 2007 General Election, at the height of the boom.

And while they were in opposition both Fine Gael and the Labour Party readily agreed to the 34-bed dedicated CF unit at St Vincent's hospital.

After a deluge of shameful publicity the FF-PD government gave the go ahead for the new unit and funded a ward for eight individual patients.

The rest, often more than 30 CF patients, had to share the infections of other patients in the general wards of the hospital.

Just three weeks ago in the Dail, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told Deputy Finian McGrath: "I support the proper provision of services for cystic fibrosis sufferers."

Then on Tuesday night Dr Reilly flew in the face of best international opinion and decided CF sufferers only really need 20 dedicated beds in the new unit.

Yesterday internationally respected authorities on CF said that if only 20 beds are available, as many as one third of CF patients in St Vincent's will be in general wards.

And that is where the term planned obsolescence was used to describe the plan to limit the number of beds available in the new unit to 20 CF patients.

My daughter, who has CF, has just spent more than seven weeks in St Vincent's hospital, and the seriousness of her illness meant she was admitted to one of the eight isolation rooms.

Getting into one of the individual rooms in St Christopher's ward is a lottery but nobody wins with CF, which a consultant described as living with leukaemia all of your life.

If the new national centre for CF is over-subscribed more than a year before it opens then the clowns who are planning it should hang their heads in shame.

Irish Independent