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 Header Item Hospice Services (Continued)
 Header Item Hospital Services

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 1

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Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This is an issue of equity for people in County Wicklow. As I indicated, spending on palliative care in the county is €3 per head of population as opposed to €30 per head of population in counties Donegal, Sligo and Limerick. While we do not begrudge people in these counties such expenditure, some degree of equity is required. The lack of equity was evident when palliative services in north County Wicklow where I live were suspended during the summer owing to staff leave. Moreover, the Health Service Executive, having carried out interviews for vacant nursing posts, decided not to proceed to fill the positions. While I am aware of the current budgetary difficulties, I ask the Minister of State to convey to the HSE my concerns regarding its failure to fill the relevant nursing posts. Addressing this matter in the first instance is important. However, it is also important to address the issue of equity.

One of the Minister's key commitments is to move to a funding model under which money follows the patient. If we are serious about shifting to such a model, money should leave some of our hospitals with patients and go to hospices. In 2011, the percentage of patients in hospice home care programmes who died in hospital was 6% in Limerick and 40% in Wicklow. As Deputies are aware, it is more expensive to care for patients in hospitals than hospices. If we were to introduce a funding model whereby money follows the patient, some financial resources should follow patients being discharged from acute hospitals into hospices.

Politicians are always asked whether Departments have lists of projects. Does the Department have a list setting out where the next hospices will be built? If so, where does County Wicklow feature in the ranking? I would be grateful if the Minister of State would raise these matters with the Health Service Executive.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I accept that an issue of equity always arises in the development and delivery of services. The Deputy provided stark figures on the percentage of hospice home care patients in Limerick and Wicklow who died in hospital care. All the research suggests people wish to spend their final days at home and in their communities. I am not certain if the list the Deputy seeks exists but I will convey his request to the Health Service Executive. If information is available on this matter, I will ensure he receives it.

Hospital Services

Deputy John McGuinness: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness In raising this matter, I express my sympathy to the family of the late Niall Comerford, his parents, Walter and Joan, brothers, Damien and Shane, and sister, Linda. Niall Comerford was a young man who had a routine operation lasting for 15 minutes in Kilcreene Hospital on 24 September 2012. His parents complain that he was not given pre-operative advice and information on his after-care was not provided on discharge. He was simply asked to return to the hospital within ten days and visit his consultant six weeks later. On 1 November 2012, Niall died as a result of pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis. Professor Beverley Hunt, who has written many papers on deep vein thrombosis, states that the condition can be avoided or addressed by following appropriate advice.

The death of Niall Comerford has been shocking for his family who decided to wait until after the autopsy last Friday before raising the case publicly. I listened carefully to Walter Comerford speak on my local radio station in recent days. Despite his loss, Mr. Comerford is dealing constructively with his son's death and has asked publicly for an independent inquiry. When I met him before the autopsy more than a week ago he was thinking along the lines of seeking an inquiry but chose to await the outcome of the autopsy. He has since issued a public statement requesting an independent inquiry.

It is difficult to believe the Health Service Executive did not contact the Comerford family until after the autopsy. I believe it was for this reason that the family concluded it did not have confidence in the HSE. Put simply, I support the family's request and urge the Minister of State to support the family during this very difficult time by immediately establishing an independent inquiry to ascertain precisely what occurred. Such an inquiry could be carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch Before referring to the notes provided to me, which are, by necessity, very short, I extend my deepest sympathy and that of the Department to the family of Mr. Comerford. The loss of a child is unimaginable for most people.

Approximately one week following discharge after routine knee orthopaedic surgery undertaken at Kilcreene Orthopaedic Hospital, Kilkenny, a young man was admitted to Waterford Regional Hospital in a collapsed state and pronounced dead shortly afterwards. The Health Service Executive expresses its deepest sympathy to the family on the death of this young man. On 30 November 2012, the Waterford city coroner recorded a death of acute cardiac failure secondary to pulmonary failure, which was caused by deep vein thrombosis originating in the left calf. The orthopaedic consultant involved in the case met with the family separately approximately one week before the inquest. Following the verdict of the inquest, HSE representatives contacted the family and offered to meet them. The family are to refer back with a decision as to whether they will attend a meeting. The family have expressed their dissatisfaction and requested an independent review of the case. The HSE has confirmed that this case is being escalated to the national incident management team for completion of a review. The family will be consulted as part of this process. I am sure the Deputy will understand that further comment at this time would be inappropriate. I will convey the sentiments he expressed to the Minister for Health when we meet later.

Deputy John McGuinness: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness I respect the role the Minister of State must play in this matter and note the information she provided, none of which is inaccurate or disputed. She indicated that further comment would be inappropriate. The family of Niall Comerford has requested an independent inquiry and is not interested in discussing the matter further with the HSE, as they made perfectly clear to me today. They are shocked that the HSE did not make contact with them prior to last Saturday. I am not making a big issue of this but asking the Minister of State to consider a reasonable request from the family.

The Minister of State's reply did not address the question I asked. I ask her to reconsider her response and consider, with the HSE and Department, the family's request, bearing in mind the constructive approach they have taken to this matter at a shocking and sad time. At a minimum, the Health Service Executive must change its normal tack, stop being defensive and come to the assistance of a family by acceding to its request, which was made in a public, quiet and constructive manner, for an independent inquiry.

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