Government accused of exploiting patient advocates

Cervical Check campaigner Stephen Teap.

Gabriel Scally has hit out at the Government for “exploiting” patient advocates who give up their time to help improve and transform the health sector.

Cervical Check campaigner Stephen Teap said he has been fighting for a proper structure which would see patient representatives paid for their work, however, he claimed this suggestion has been ignored by the Department of Health.

Speaking after publishing his supplementary report into the Cervical Check scandal, Dr Scally said: “It’s very clear that in the process of developing policies, plans and initiatives in the health field the earlier and the more that patient advocates are involved the higher the likelihood of success.

“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.”

Mr Teap, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer in July 2017, said both he and fellow advocate Lorraine Walsh, who are both on the Cervical Check Steering Committee, have given up the equivalent of two working months of their time in the past year following the smear test controversy.

“Lorraine did the sums only a few days ago and the amount of hours that we have put into advocating on the Steering Committee alone in the last few months is 340 hours of our time, that’s essentially two working months,” said Mr Teap.

“All of that’s done on a voluntary basis and that doesn’t include the work we have put into the support group, the setting up of that, or even all of the additional committees that we find ourselves on now in the HSE.

We have been trying to push over the past couple of months a proper platform for patient representatives but unfortunately it’s being ignored, there have been letters sent in to the Minister for Health and everything, highlighting the importance of it.

“I think healthcare for everybody can only be achieved by patients and medical professionals working together, I think we have certainly proved that over the last few months.”

Mr Teap said that, like all other patient advocates, he has a busy career, a young family to raise and other commitments to juggle outside of his campaigning role.

“I am a single parent with two kids,” he said. “Lorraine [Walsh] is self-employed. every day she is out of the office she is not making money. I would be very self conscious that I am now the only income in my household and it is exploitation from that point of view.

“It isn’t just for cervical screening it’s right across the health sector, no matter what committee or what area of health patient representatives and medical professionals working together is the only way we will achieve the healthcare we want.”

A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris said he had met Mr Teap last month on the issue.

“The Department is in the process of establishing an independent patient advocate service and will continue to engagement with Stephen and Lorraine on this matter.

“The Minister is in favour of payment for patient advocates and is working to find the best practice mechanism for it,” said the spokesperson.

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