Wednesday, 24 October 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Deenihan: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me raise this matter on the Adjournment. It is another example of how our health services are failing our sick and how this Government seems to be totally oblivious to what is happening in our hospitals.
Mary Quirke-McFarland from Listowel was diagnosed with lung cancer after being admitted to Tralee General Hospital where she works as a nurse, for tests on 10 September. She was referred to Cork University Hospital for a more detailed examination on 24 September. She had to wait a further ten days for a prognosis. She was then advised that the type of cancer she suffers from is operable and could be removed. She was scheduled for surgery at Cork University Hospital on 17 October to remove either a lobe of the affected lung or the entire organ.
However, on 12 October, just five days before she was due to be admitted, Mrs Quirke-McFarland was advised that her operation had been cancelled because of the unavailability of beds in the intensive care unit. Her operation was rescheduled for this Tuesday, 23 October and she was assured that the operation would go ahead. On Monday morning, just as she was saying goodbye to her children and being driven to Cork by her husband, Peter, she received a telephone call from Cork University Hospital informing her that the operation was postponed again. Understandably, she was devastated.
Eleven years ago when Mary lived in London her doctor discovered a lump in her breast. She was admitted to a hospital the following day and had it removed. Fortunately for her, it was at a pre-cancerous stage.
The urgency with which her problem was dealt with in London contrasts with her treatment in Ireland. In September when the cancer was diagnosed, Mary was also warned that the lymph nodes in her chest were enlarged which indicated that the cancer was spreading throughout her body. Mary's health has rapidly deteriorated in the past two weeks as her breathing has become increasingly difficult and she has developed a cough. She is concerned about the future of her three children should anything happen to her.
To be told not once but twice that no bed was available for her is unforgivable. This is no way to run a health service. The buck stops with the Minister. It is up to him to provide the necessary resources to the Southern Health Board to provide the required number of beds in the intensive care unit in Cork University Hospital so that urgent cases, such as Mary McFarland, can be dealt with. I understand Mrs. McFarland received further notification today that she will be admitted on Wednesday, 31 October. For her sake and that of her family, I hope the unacceptable delay in carrying out the required operation will not affect her chances of recovery.
The treatment experienced by Mary McFar land is unacceptable in a country which claims to look after its sick. This story was featured on the Gerry Ryan programme and was reported in The Kerryman. It is wrong that a woman felt that the only course open to her was to go public with her case to get justice and have the necessary treatment provided.
Dr. Moffatt: I thank Deputy Deenihan for raising this issue on the Adjournment. As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of surgical services in Cork University Hospital is a matter for the Southern Health Board. I am advised by the Southern Health Board that the person mentioned was seen by a surgeon on 5 October last and was initially issued with a provisional appointment for surgery on 17 October, subject to confirmation. Unfortunately, it was not possible to arrange treatment for that date and the patient was scheduled to be admitted on Monday, 22 October last for a procedure to be carried out on 23 October for which a post-operative intensive therapy unit bed was deemed necessary. I am informed that, over the weekend, the hospital experienced a significant demand on its intensive care beds and, regrettably, due to clinical demand, an ITU post operative bed was not available for her and surgery could not proceed on that date.
It is most regrettable that any patient's scheduled treatment should have to be postponed. It is a matter of particular concern that a patient in these circumstances should have an operation of this nature postponed. However, the Southern Health Board has indicated that the postponement was unfortunately unavoidable given the exceptional pressure placed on ICT facilities over the previous weekend. The board has informed me that the patient is scheduled to be operated on next Wednesday, 31 October, which is the next operating date of the surgeon who is treating her.
It has been a concern of the Government in recent years to improve the quality of cancer services available nationally. In this context, since the commencement of the implementation of the national cancer strategy, £5.4 million of dedicated money has been allocated to the Southern Health Board specifically for the development of oncology and related services. This funding has enabled a range of developments under the national cancer strategy, including new consultant appointments in the Southern Health Board in the areas of oncology, histopathology and haematology. The board has also received approval for a consultant surgeon with a special interest in gastro-intestinal surgery and a consultant surgeon with a special interest in breast care.
The pressures on the acute hospitals generally are of concern to the Government and, for that reason, we have examined the adequacy of bed capacity in the system. This is one of the issues to be dealt with in the forthcoming health strategy.
The situation the Deputy has raised is unfortu nate and is obviously a cause of great concern to the Minister, Deputy Martin, to me and to the patient concerned. The Southern Health Board will be asked to address this issue as soon as possible.
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