20 January 2000 Edition
Scandal at Drogheda's Lourdes Hospital
Doctor suspended for caring for patients
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
The North Eastern Health Board (NEHB) took the unprecedented step of suspending one of the consultants at the Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda because, it is alleged, `he kept his patients in hospital too long'. Over 1,000 people marched through Drogheda on Saturday, with a petition of 10,000 signatures calling for Dr Muldoon's reinstatement, which was handed in to the hospital authorities.
Many people, who had been his patients, were on the march. They all spoke highly of Dr Muldoon. Many tied white ribbons to the gates of the hospital.
``This society is really sick,'' said one of Dr Muldoon's patients, ``that a doctor should be suspended from work because he looks after his patients. And that the health board is prepared to pay a consultant while denying him the right to give consultations.'' Consultants normally earn well over £100,000 a year, depending on their fame and position.
Dr. Muldoon went to the High Court last week to challenge the NEHB's decision which placed him on paid administrative leave. He was refused an interlocutory injunction restraining the NEHB.
On Saturday, he said that the march was not just about his reinstatement. It was ``about the level of services in the hospital and the perception that these are being run down and that the bed situation is getting worse.''
``It's a lot more than a `perception','' says Sinn Féin's Maeve Healy. ``It's the reality.'' Maeve is chairperson of the Drogheda Citizens' Group, which has been campaigning for older people to be kept in for longer stays, while the health board maintains the shortage of community care, respite facilities and home care workers. ``Provision for elderly people who leave hospital after treatment has to be sorted out before the health board can start cutting back on bed time,'' says Maeve. ``Before Christmas, they announced six extra places for elderly people, but this is at the expense of respite beds and long stay people. The shortage of home care workers arises because they pay them at £3 per hour. It's outrageous. Nobody really seems to care about elderly people. They just want to save money. Dr. Muldoon has simply taken the rap for the appalling shortages in the whole health service.
Lourdes Hospital used to be an international training hospital, but now it's an acute hospital and nurses don't train there any more. There is a scarcity of staff. ``There are between 60 and 90 beds shut down at any one time,'' says Maeve. ``Yet there are long waiting lists, and people on trolleys in casualty waiting for beds on a ward. The average waiting time in casualty is between six and eight hours. The other day, a mother brought in her child, early in the morning, with his lip badly cut through. She waited all day before he was seen; she had to go home to look after the other kids from school and only then could she bring him back to the hospital, when he was finally treated.
``You have to wait for every stage of the process, often months. You wait for an appointment, another wait for an X-ray, then you wait for tests, then you have to wait for the results, and then you can be months waiting for a specialist consultation. It can stretch to years. All the while you are worried, in pain, incapacitated, and may even be dying.
``I have seen doctors who are 70 hours on call. You come back after a night's rest and they are still on duty. The government has no intention of ending this before the end of the present five-year plan. How can this be allowed?
``All that seems to matter to the health board is cutting back on expenditure. All you hear is `the budget, the budget'. Everyone on the staff is under pressure. You'd think they were running a factory, not a hospital.''