The scale of sexual abuse by medical practitioners against patients could be far worse than scandals that rocked the Catholic Church, it was claimed today.
Dignity4Patients, which is supporting more than 250 alleged victims, has demanded a state inquiry into the abuse of patients after allegations were made against male and female consultants, doctors and nurses from all over the country.
Bernadette Sullivan, executive director, warned medics are able to abuse more than other professions, with most privately seeing a new patient every 10 to 15 minutes.
“The scale of numbers a doctor can abuse as compared to a priest are huge,” said the former nurse-turned-whistleblower.
“The worrying thing about the medical profession, and why there has to be an urgent move to do something about this, is the scale of which they can offend I believe is far greater than any other area of our life.”
Dignity4Patients said a dozen different government-ordered investigations into abuse have been completed since the group began calling for an inquiry into the health sector 17 years ago.
The organisation also supports alleged victims of ex-consultant Michael Shine.
The pensioner was acquitted in court of indecent assault on teenage boys while working at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda but was later struck off the medical register for professional misconduct.
He denies all allegations of abuse.
Elsewhere almost a fifth of patients believe they have been subjected to an inappropriate action or comment by a health practitioner, an independent survey of 100 patients for Dignity4Patients suggests.
Ms Sullivan said inquiries have proved to be the most effective vehicle for change.
“Without such an inquiry the state is protracting and compounding the suffering of patient victims and putting the safety of all Irish patients at risk,” she added.
The group criticised health chiefs for not examining its files in which victim’s detail the modus operandi of sexual predators, and demanded a code of practice and public information campaign for medics and patients about medical examinations.
Dignity4Patients maintained that Health Minister James Reilly, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and President Michael D Higgins are all on record calling for a public inquiry before they were elected last year, and that the coalition’s integrity was up for scrutiny.
“One has to question how genuine those words and actions were when they didn’t have the power,” continued Ms Sullivan.
“Enda Kenny recently pointed his finger at Rome and at the Pope because of the failings in the Church.
“I would like to say to Enda Kenny that when he pointed that finger at Rome, there were three fingers pointing back at himself because he has a responsibility to patients.”
Meanwhile the support group revealed its funding has been cut from €170,000 in 2010 to €69,000 last year and to just 22,500 euro this year to cover rent and utility bills in one office.
Staff and volunteers, who work for free, have had to turn away victims in need of vital support.
“To fail to provide adequate funding to Dignity4Patients is to further discriminate, marginalise and neglect patient victims,” Ms Sullivan added.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was awaiting legal advice from the Attorney General Maire Whelan on a possible way forward to inquire into allegations of abuse in the health sector.
“Really I do feel for, empathise and sympathise for the victims in this case,” he told the Dáil.
Mr Kenny offered to meet with cross-party TDs from the North East region who have been supporting some of the alleged victims to discuss options.
The Taoiseach also said that the option of an Oireachtas inquiry had to be shelved after the proposed widening of parliamentary powers of inquiry was rejected in a referendum last year.