Monday 18 December 2017

Sarah Carey: Why are hospital staff sending sick kids to local TDs?

Why are hospital staff sending sick kids to local TDs? Picture posed
Why are hospital staff sending sick kids to local TDs? Picture posed

AT a Fine Gael parliamentary meeting last week Health Minister Leo Varadkar told his colleagues to stop asking him to get patients moved up waiting lists.

As thousands of operations have been cancelled while the back-log from A&E is processed, constituents have been asking TDs to see if a word in the Minister's ear will get them bumped up the list.

Varadkar quite rightly told Fine Gael TDs and Senators to stop asking as there was no way he could interfere in clinical decisions.

I'd say the TDs were relieved to hear this and even more relieved that the instruction later made its way into the media.

Because that message needs to be got through to patients and health care staff as well as the politicians themselves.

I heard of a case a few months ago that made me realise the horrible pressure TDs come under and - more to the point - where the pressure originates.

A politician told me he received a phone call early one morning from a distressed parent. Their child was in a regional hospital and needed a specialist bed in a major Dublin hospital.

Each day a national list is compiled and whoever is sickest, gets the bed. Unfortunately, this child was not sick enough to get the bed.

I'd be going out of my mind if I were that parent. But here's the part that shocked me.

The parent was contacting the politician because the staff at the hospital told them that they only way to get the bed was to contact their Government representative and get them to lobby Leo. The Minister was the only person who could change the list.

The politician was appalled. He knew it was absolutely wrong for a politician to interfere with the priority list as decided by doctors nationally.

He was disgusted that the staff had suggested such a thing to the parent. Why would they do that? Why would they claim that politics rather than clinical decisions were a factor?

And yet here he was with an upset parent who was quite understandably doing everything they thought they could for their child. Wouldn't he do the very same if it was his child?

All the politician could do was listen to the story, gently warn that success was unlikely, but that he'd make enquiries. He wasn't trying to secure a vote; he was trying to get a person in distress through a crisis.

So he made the relevant calls and the official request and got the official answer back that under no circumstances could there be any interference.

He counselled the parent as gently as possible and they fully accepted the answer. They apologised for even asking, but they'd had to try. It was a horrible situation for everyone.


I told the politician he should officially complain to the hospital CEO about the conduct of the staff. To give false hope to a parent and suggest that politicians could change the list was grossly unethical.

In a case like that, how could anyone hang up on a panic-stricken parent following the advice of the hospital staff? The only quibble I'd have with the Health Minister is that instead of confining his remarks to the parliamentary party meeting he should send a memo to the HSE.

Messing with waiting lists is wrong. Politicians shouldn't do it. And hospital staff shouldn't tell vulnerable people it can be done.

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