Campaigner Stephen Teap hits out at Harris for 'exploiting' patient representatives

Campaigner Stephen Teap hits out at Harris for 'exploiting' patient representatives
CervicalCheck campaigner Stephen Teap

CervicalCheck campaigner Stephen Teap has hit out at the Health Minister for continuing to "exploit" patient representatives who do not receive payment for their work.

Simon Harris had promised that a new policy to remunerate and support patient advocates who give up their time to sit on boards and steering committees would be published by the end of this month at the very latest.

However, this deadline will be missed and the Department of Health cannot now give a clear timeline for when this work will be carried out and published.

Mr Teap, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer, said: "There is no defined policy around patient advocates, it's not about making money it's about replacing lost income when your time gets absorbed in a patient advocate role due to something tragic.

Unless that's put in place it's obviously clear exploitation because you are relying on people who come on board who are coming from a tragic circumstances, and you are literally just covering their train ticket.

The father-of-two estimates that both he and fellow advocate Lorraine Walsh have each volunteered 340 hours - or the equivalent of two working months of their time - in a single year as part of their work on the CervcialCheck steering committee.

Mr Teap said many people are therefore prevented from becoming patient advocates as they cannot afford to take unpaid leave from work to attend meetings.

"I want to see a proper defined policy around this.

"It's not about reimbursing me, it's about having a proper policy in place going forward," he said.

Dr Gabriel Scally has also been highly critical of the Department of Health over its treatment of patient representatives.

Publishing his supplementary report into the Cervical Check scandal in June, he said: “I look forward to when patient advocates like Stephen Teap and Lorraine Walsh are not the only people around the table at important meetings who are giving up their time on an entirely voluntary basis, that is just wrong, in fact it is exploitation and must be corrected as soon as possible.”

Patient representatives now sit on a growing number of health-related boards and committees including the Disability Consultative Committee; the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council; The Dentist Council and the HSE board.

In August, Mr Harris promised that the current situation, which means patient representatives are not paid for their work, would be addressed by the end of October.

"We have now thankfully, patient reps sitting on so many committees. It's important that their time is paid for," he said.

However, the Department of Health has yet to come up with formal guidelines and policies and are still in the stakeholder engagement stage of the process.

"The Department has commenced work in relation to the development of a policy for the selection and payment of patient representatives. This includes a scoping exercise seeking to determine the number of patient representatives sitting on committees within both the HSE and the Department of Health," a spokesperson said.

The Department said it is "important to state" that travel and subsistence expenses are reimbursed in line with travel and subsistence policy and rates applicable to the Department of Health, where appropriate.

Further pressed on the timeline for publishing a formal policy, a spokesperson for Mr Harris said: "The policy will be published by the Minister as soon as it has been considered."

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