Sunday 15 December 2019

X-ray questions need answering

CONTRARY to the Taoiseach's insistence that there is no question of an attempt to cover up the Tallaght Hospital X-ray scandal, various attempts to keep the public in the dark have emerged.

The Taoiseach should review the situation under the following headings:

- Misinformation provided to the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

- Forty letters sent by staff radiologists over a number of years warning about a growing crisis.

- The essential question the Health Minister, Mary Harney, failed to ask in December.

- Failure to let patients know that they had been denied even a minimum standard of care.

When the news broke on Tuesday that almost 58,000 X-rays had not been formally examined by a specialist doctor, the initial impression was that the problem had only been identified in December by the hospital's newly-appointed chief executive, who then initiated prompt remedial action and personally briefed the minister.

Incredibly, Ms Harney, despite numerous experiences of previous bolts from the blue, did not think to inquire about the scale of the problem.

Yesterday, it emerged that, last April, a general practitioner had informed HIQA of his concerns about shoddy practice at Tallaght hospital. A team met the hospital's then chief executive, to be told that a backlog of a mere 4,000 X-rays would be dealt with within a couple of months.

Further meetings were held, and others postponed, in the months that followed and it was not until January that the true scale of the problem -- 58,000 X-rays -- was disclosed.

Throughout this period, and for years before, radiologists had been warning hospital management, in writing, of a growing backlog. Tallaght has just seven consultant radiologists instead of the 18 required to deal with its volume of work.

All these things were going on unknown to the public and, had some whistleblower not decided enough was enough, we might still not know.

And all the while, disgracefully, tens of thousands of patients were being kept in the dark.

Meanwhile,the Health Minister has escaped to New Zealand, for St Patrick's Day, a week early. There were calls for her resignation yesterday and, in truth, a Health Minister across the water with a similar record would have been gone long ago.

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