13 August 2009 Edition

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Crumlin Hospital: Treating the children of the nation

TERESA SHALLOW, a mother of five children, is a key player in the Save Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital campaign. The campaigners for the famous Dublin southside hospital come from various walks of life and many are parents of seriously-ill children, as is the case in the Shallow family. The campaign has won the hearts and minds of Dubliners but still hasn’t managed (so far) to secure Government funding to address the financial shortfall involved which is in the millions. The campaigners are not for going away.


BY ELLA O’DWYER

THE Save Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital campaign was launched in 2006 when the Health Service Executive (HSE) announced its intention to amalgamate the southside hospital into a new development on the site of the Mater Hospital, on the northside, near the city centre, which is to be “a centre of excellence” in the treatment of sick children.
While the campaigners have no objection to a new centre of excellence being established, they want to have the services at Crumlin maintained at full capacity until such time as the new development is delivered. Already those services have been wound down with the closures of one theatre and a ward.
They also want certain basic services maintained in Our Lady’s, even after the Mater development is up and running, to cater for relatively basic complaints such as bone fractures and breaks and other minor ailments. The underlying logic here is that getting to the Mater, which involves getting through the often painfully slow-moving city centre traffic, could be extremely difficult at times. As Teresa points out:
“Would you like to be trying to get your child to the Mater on the day of a match in Croke Park or on any busy day for that matter? The counter-argument we’ve been met with is that people travel from all over the country already to Crumlin Hospital. Well imagine very seriously ill children being driven up all the way to Dublin and then across the city.” 
Teresa doubts the whole feasibility of the Mater proposal.
“The Mater Hospital was chosen by the Government in June 2006 as the site for the new National Paediatric Hospital. Not only is it meant to cater for the whole state but it is also to be the only one in the greater Dublin region providing 24-hour care for children, having the only in-patient beds, the only overnight beds and the only Emergency Department.
“And we’ve been told that there will be a large parking area at the Mater but the site is not very big and it’s difficult to see how it could cope.”
There were other possible venues for the new hospital, as Teresa points out.
“There was a proposal to build the new children’s’ hospital near the Red Cow region just before you go out the Nass Road. That would have suited both country and Dublin people – the Luas even goes out there. Also, when we’re in a recession I don’t see where they’re going to get the €14 million that the new paediatric hospital is estimated to cost.”
Whether or not the new ‘centre of excellence’ in the Mater materialises, the campaigners know that it’s imperative to sustain services in Crumlin in the interim and, far from maintaining services at Our Lady’s, there have been cuts.
“One theatre was closed down and St Joseph’s Ward for orthopaedic patients which had 25 beds has also been closed. The patients that were in that ward have been dispersed to different wards like St Bridget’s  – wards that the nurses even say are crammed to capacity. In fact, there were proposals to close another theatre and two more wards but the determined opposition from the campaigners led to those proposed cuts being reversed.
“At a  meeting with HSE Chief Executive Dr Brendan Drumm two weeks ago, the campaign representatives were assured that the theatre that has been closed would be reopened but so far that has not happened.
“To add insult to injury, Drumm is trying to lay the blame on the hospital for the ward closure, saying it was the hospital’s decision to decide what wards to close.”
The necessary funds simply haven’t been allocated to Crumlin Hospital to keep all the wards open and there’s a big shortfall involved.
“Drumm maintains,” Teresa says, “that the shortfall for Our Lady’s is €5 million, whereas the hospital are saying it’s more like €9.6 million.”
As Teresa Shallow notes, money that has already been allocated in the health service could far more fittingly have been put into Crumlin Hospital.
“Look at the money being spent on HSE advisers - €62.4 million for the last four years and yet they refuse to put the €9.6 million needed into Crumlin to keep it functioning at capacity.
“Last month, the Government – Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Independents – decided not to help a national institution do the work that helps and stands for every child in this country. They voted not to provide just one per cent of the total budget funds that can be allocated for the National Health Service.”
So much for government concern for the “children of the nation”!
A protest was held outside the hospital at the end of June to coincide with another protest held outside the Dáil the same day.
“About 500 people turned up in Crumlin – people from every walk of life and different political parties. The support is definitely out there for our cause. Our campaign doesn’t hang on any one political party – we’ll take support from any party that will support us.”
Another issue that drew public attention to the campaigners’ cause was the case of spina bifida and scoliosis sufferer, 11-year-old Jamie Murphy, from County Kilkenny. Jamie’s illnesses are ones that could have led to her being nursed in St Joseph’s orthopaedic ward but Crumlin couldn’t guarantee to provide the necessary and potentially life-saving surgery soon enough so Jamie was taken to London for treatment.
Jamie’s case highlighted the issue of Our Lady’s Hospital and demonstrated the urgency involved. And Jamie is only one of many children whose lives could be put in jeopardy for want of appropriate services.
Our Lady’s also has a heritage of saving, supporting and cherishing the lives of children in this country. Teresa herself feels she owes the hospital much. Asked how and why she got so committed to fighting for Our Lady’s, Teresa said she feels she owes it to the hospital.
“My son had open heart surgery there when he was only four and I spent a year there as a three-year-old when I had meningitis. The hospital supported me when I needed it so I want to give some of that support back.”
The Save Our Lady’s Children Hospital campaign is not going away by any means.
“There will be more protests. We’ll continue the campaign until the money is put into the hospital to secure frontline services and restore the ward and theatre that were closed. I feel it’s time that the bureaucracy tussle between the HSE and the hospital came to an end and the whole issue be resolved.”


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