| 10.6°C Dublin

Harney 'told about crisis two years ago'

HEALTH Minister Mary Harney was told about the X-ray crisis in Tallaght hospital two years ago, it has emerged.

A patient support group at the hospital claimed it brought the difficulties to the attention of the Minister as long ago as March 2008 and said it wrote to her "regularly" afterwards about the problem.

The Minister has insisted she was only told three months ago at a meeting with the incoming hospital chief executive Professor Kevin Conlon.

Today, Opposition critics have said the Minister's account of the X-ray scandal is "simply not credible" and there have been calls for her sacking or her resignation but Ms Harney, who is in New Zealand, has no plans to travel home early.

Senior executives at the hospital ignored repeated demands for answers from a patient safety watchdog for almost a year, it has also emerged.

The complete breakdown of communication between the hospital management and the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has been exposed in a series of letters from HIQA to the hospital asking about unread X-rays which did not receive any reply.

The Tallaght GP and public health specialist who first drew attention to the scandal has also called on the chairman of the hospital board to consider his position.

Prof Tom O'Dowd said because chairman Lyndon MacCann had not replied to two letters warning him about the X-ray backlog and other problems, he should ask himself if he was the person "to oversee the governance of a modern healthcare institution".

The Tallaght Hospital Action Group says it wrote to Minister Harney on numerous occasions about the shortages in the hospital X-ray department.

Chairman Triona Murphy said "at that stage we knew there were shortages in radiology because the likes of MRI and other scans, they were being sent to other hospitals. That was back in 2008.

"We raised concerns at the time. We got no director response from the hospital. We raised concerns with the HSE."

The group believes "it was an active attempt to keep it quiet. I just think the HSE tried to keep their heads down. We would then write regularly to the Minister in relation to the shortage".

Pressure is also mounting on the hospital management with Minister of State Conor Lenihan calling for "major changes in the management structures" at Tallaght in the light of the "shocking" revelations.

He says an immediate management review at the hospital was "essential" to restore public confidence in the facility.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association says radiologists at the hospital wrote more than 40 letters to hospital management over the past three to four years seeking extra staff and warning there was a growing delay in reporting on X-rays but nothing was done.

Meanwhile, concerned patients have been flooding the new helpline set up to deal with queries about unread X-rays. Calls have been coming in at the rate of 100 an hour forcing the hospital to open a second line.

The HSE said Tallaght hospital is now reviewing approximately 2,000 of the unreported films per day and the completed review is due in 10 weeks.

See Page 31