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Questions over cancellation of child operations

The new year, like the old, bids to bring us a flood of health crises and even health scandals. The word "scandalous" certainly applies to the disclosure that in one of our three children's hospitals, Tallaght, 800 operations were cancelled in 2010 and 640 up to November 2011.

This word has been used before. Last year, Dr James Reilly used it when he complained that nearly 24,000 children were waiting for specialist appointments in the three hospitals.

He had right on his side. Nobody needs telling about the dreadful vulnerability of a patient or the endless anxiety caused by the illness of a child.

Now Dr Reilly is Minister for Health. Last March, he inherited a system in a condition close to crisis. Has anything changed?

Evidently little has improved in the crucial area of children's operations -- or at any rate the authorities can point to little that suggests improvement.

Last year an unpublished report commissioned by the Health Service Executive found that Temple Street and Crumlin were under-using their operating theatre time by 28pc. Only Tallaght, at 17pc, came close to best practice.

Strangely enough at a time of staff and other cutbacks, the report did not attribute the deficiency to a lack of resources. Obviously there may be many reasons. One is challenging: it seems none of the three institutions systematically operated either a manual or a computerised theatre management system.

This newspaper requested information from all three under the Freedom of Information Act. The results were less than encouraging.

Crumlin reported: "The hospital has not found the records you request or discovered any indication that they exist." Temple Street thought the task of finding the information too "onerous".

The question therefore remains whether the hospital management or the relevant specialists possess the information essential for them to do their jobs.

A spokesman for Dr Reilly said that an initiative had been mounted to help the three hospitals. This in turn forms part of a "special delivery unit" set up some time ago to gather information from which to form a database common to all hospitals.

The children's hospitals have been asked to give details of their operations to the special delivery unit by the end of the month. This sense of urgency is praiseworthy. But surely hospitals had methods of keeping track of operations before computers were invented. And surely modern tools should make the task all the easier.

Irish Independent