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20 October 2005 Edition

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Patrick Walsh tragedy - Taoiseach and Tánaiste challenged by O Caolain

Bertie Ahern and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin pictured in the Dáil

Bertie Ahern and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin pictured in the Dáil

"Disastrous policies caused terrible death"

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Tánaiste and Health Minister Mary Harney have been challenged by Sinn Féin Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin on the tragic death of Patrick Walsh in Monaghan General Hospital on Friday 14 October. The Sinn Féin Dáil leader said the death came about directly as a result of "disastrous policies" which dictated that emergency surgery could not be carried out on Walsh in Monaghan General Hospital.

In the Dáil on Tuesday 18 October Ó Caoláin pointed out that Bertie Ahern had visited Monaghan last Friday where he met the Community Alliance which has been campaigning for years against the cutting of services at Monaghan General Hospital. That same day Patrick Walsh was brought to the hospital suffering from a bleeding ulcer. Because of the embargo on emergency surgery in the hospital staff could not operate on Walsh.

O Caoláin further pointed out: "Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Cavan General and Beaumont in Dublin could not take him. So a man died a terrible death in Monaghan General Hospital as his devastated family looked on. A hospital with surgical and support staff and a state-of-the-art theatre was not allowed to operate because of the centralisation policies that dictate that such life-saving procedures cannot be performed at Monaghan. These are the policies of your Government, Taoiseach."

O Caoláin asked when the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were going to listen to the public, patients and the healthcare workers and restore life-saving services that have been taken away from Monaghan. "Is the Taoiseach aware that last month consultant surgeons at Cavan and Monaghan signed a joint appeal to the Health Service Executive to allow Monaghan General Hospital to go back on call for acute surgical emergencies and that the Health Service Executive should provide the resources to allow it to do so? Nothing happened, Taoiseach. Neither the HSE nor the Minister acted on that call and as a direct result a man died in Monaghan last Friday.

"Will you undertake now, in conjunction with the Tánaiste, to comply with the request of surgeons and staff and patients and restore these services to Monaghan? Will you require the HSE to do so? And will you ensure that the inquiry into the death of Patrick Walsh covers not only the immediate circumstances of his death but the disastrous policies which led directly to it?"

Bed available

Ahern confirmed that an inquiry into the death has been initiated. Harney said it was her information that there was an intensive care bed available in Cavan, contrary to media reports.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was severely critical of a statement from Harney on Monday when she said that 'regardless of what policy operates in any particular hospital there is no excuse for anybody dying unnecessarily because they can't get access to appropriate medical care. Ó Caoláin responded: "I am incredulous that the Tánaiste should make such a statement and treat the tragic death of Patrick Walsh in this Pontius Pilate manner. She is trying to place the blame on Monaghan General Hospital and its dedicated staff. She knows very well that the embargo on acute surgical emergencies in Monaghan has nothing to do with hospital policy. It is the policy and the diktat of this government through the Health Service Executive and the Health Board before it. That is what ties the hands of the staff at Monaghan.

"The HSE has ignored the public appeal by the consultant surgeons at Cavan and Monaghan for Monaghan General Hospital to be allowed to go back on call for surgical emergencies.

"I tabled a Question to the Tánaiste for answer on the day the Dáil returned on 29 September, asking for her response to the call of the Cavan/Monaghan surgeons. The Question was referred by her to the HSE and to date I have still not received a reply. This is typical of the downgrading of parliamentary accountability on the health services by this government. In the same way they have downgraded services in smaller hospitals, leading directly to tragedies like the death of Patrick Walsh."

  • Another tragedy in Monaghan Hospital

Patrick Walsh of Killanny, Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, died in Monaghan General Hospital on Friday 14 October. Attempts had been made to transfer him to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Cavan General Hospital and Beaumont in Dublin. Reports said no intensive care beds were available in these hospitals, although Tánaiste and Health Minister Mary Harney claimed in the Dáil on Tuesday that there was such a bed in Cavan.

"You wouldn't let an animal die the way this man died," said Patrick's sister Phyllis Hughes this week.

Patrick Walsh bled to death on the same day that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was visiting Monaghan and meeting the Monaghan Hospital Community Alliance. The 'configuration' of hospital services in the Northeast region (Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath) dictates that no emergency surgery can take place at Monaghan Hospital. Though the facilities are in place at Monaghan, the personnel were forbidden from operating on Patrick Walsh, ultimately as a result of government policy which has centralised services in larger hospitals.

It is estimated that 16 people have died who may otherwise have survived had services been available in the hospital. Accident and emergency, maternity and other services have been whittled away over the past seven years.

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