REBECCA O’Malley, the Tipperary mother-of-three who was wrongly given the all clear for breast cancer, yesterday called for the mandatory reporting of medical errors.
“The force of law is needed to force through change,” she told delegates at the Irish Nurses Organisation’s annual conference in Cavan.
Ms O’Malley said a number of nurses had told her that there was a climate of fear that hindered them from speaking out on behalf of patients.
“Protections must be put in place to protect nurses from victimisation, and I firmly believe that the introduction of mandatory reporting of medical errors would be a huge help in this regard,” she said to loud applause.
“It is only since learning of my misdiagnosis that I have come to fully realise the huge amount of trust we patients place in our doctors and nurses.
“As long as mistakes and potentially unsafe situations are ignored, or swept under the carpet, nothing changes,” she said.
It was only when the most persistent and determined were able to penetrate the barriers put up by the system that a response could be secured.
“A culture change was therefore desperately needed, and this change needs to be kick-started by making the reporting of medical errors law.”
Ms O’Malley also spoke of her disappointment at the way Health Service Executive chief executive, Prof Brendan Drumm, turned the Health Information Quality Authority’s (HIQA) investigation into her botched breast cancer test into a “good news” story.
“This demonstrated at the very highest level the culture of spin and the lack of openness, honesty and transparency that exists within our healthcare service,” said Ms O’Malley.
“At every level within the health service a paternalistic, insensitive and patronising approach needs to be replaced with candour and humility.”
She said Prof Drumm missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate by his example to all within his organisation that “there has to be a new way forward — the way of truth and openness”.
Ms O’Malley said the HIQA report made 15 recommendations that would do much to make breast diagnosis safer, and she had been delighted on the day the report was published that the HSE had already implemented a number of them and others were in the process of being implemented.
She had written to Prof Drumm over three weeks ago asking what recommendations had been implemented but had received no response yet.
“I will never again accept bland assurances from the HSE,” she said.
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