Harney accused of negligence over MRSA

HEALTH Minister Mary Harney faced fresh attacks over hospital care last night as she was accused of “corporate negligence” due to the growing number of MRSA claims against the State.

A patient support group said it was not surprised at estimates this week that the State could end up fighting up to 1,500 MRSA claims at a cost of €500 million.

Criticism was levelled at Ms Harney for allowing overcrowding in wards and dirty hospitals to worsen conditions for patients.

Ms Harney was failing to look after patient safety, argued Fine Gael.

Hospital bugs had been a direct cause of death in several coroner cases, explained the opposition’s health spokesman James Reilly.

“If this happened in any large hotel or restaurant in this country it would be headline news. The hotel would be shut in the interests of public health and safety and the shareholders, management and staff would face prosecution for persistent negligence despite warnings,” he said.

The State Claims Agency admitted this week that one successful test case could kick-start an avalanche of MRSA claims, leading to half a billion euro in compensation payouts and legal costs.

One legal firm is building many of the legal claims, which so far only number 100 but could multiply 10-fold depending on court rulings.

The State Claims Agency has calculated that compensation could be hundreds of thousands of euro each.

Patient Focus said yesterday that it was not a shock to hear of the growing number of legal actions being taken by sufferers of the hospital bug or relatives of those who had died from it.

“We have huge files from people. There have been an awful lot of calls to us from families who have lost someone to this or those who can’t go to work,” said the support group’s Ruth Murdiff.

Ms Murdiff’s husband, Thomas, died from MRSA in 2004 after the hospital- acquired bug entered his bloodstream following an operation on his throat.

“It’s now appearing on death certificates. Once a family goes to a coroner and it says they died of it, they have no alternative but to go to a solicitor,” added Ms Murdiff.

MRSA is spread from person to person. It can be spread by an infected person touching sheets, bedclothes or dressings and it then infects a vulnerable person.

The heavy costs sufferers faced would be carried by the State, TD James Reilly warned last night.

“Now the bills look like rolling in on the Fianna Fáil/PD corporate negligence of our health service after much unnecessary suffering and the criminal waste of our tax money when so many of our people need it,” said Mr Reilly.

A spokeswoman for Ms Harney said yesterday that health chiefs were aiming to reduce the rate of MRSA infections by 30% over the next five years.


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