The scale of sexual abuse by medical practitioners against patients could be far worse than scandals that rocked the Catholic Church, it was claimed yesterday.
Dignity 4 Patients, which supports more than 250 alleged victims, has demanded a state inquiry into patient abuse after allegations were made against consultants, doctors and nurses from all over the country.
Bernadette Sullivan, the group’s executive director, warned that medics can abuse more than other professions.
“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.”
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.
The Taoiseach also said 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.
Almost one in five people believe medical professionals behaved inappropriately during treatments.
A survey of 100 people by Dignity 4 Patients found 18% claimed they had been subjected to an inappropriate action or comment, including sexual abuse.
Ms Sullivan said it was 17 years since an inquiry was called for into the abuse of patients.
“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 said.
While 92% of people surveyed felt their experiences with healthcare workers were mostly positive, 4% described theirs as negative.
Eight out of 10 do not feel confident in challenging a professional’s opinion and 78% are unaware of their rights when undergoing medical examinations.
Ms Sullivan also revealed that Dignity 4 Patients was also experiencing a funding crisis and since last June was unable to support people in making a complaint to the Medical Council.
Ms Sullivan questioned why the main organisation supporting patient victims was not being provided with the same level of funding as other organisations who offer support to abuse victims in other sectors of society.
“To fail to provide adequate funding to Dignity 4 Patients is to further discriminate, marginalise and neglect patient victims. This in itself is abuse,” she said.
Gerry Adams, pictured below, has placed on the Dáil record the fact that his late father was a sexual abuser.
The Sinn Féin president spoke about his father, Gerry Snr, when calling yesterday for an inquiry into historical allegations of abuse in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda.
The abuse of patients is alleged to have been carried out by former Drogheda surgeon Michael Shine in the period from 1964 to 1994.
Mr Adams questioned why, when Fine Gael and Labour in opposition had supported calls for such an inquiry, they would not establish one now.
“There are sexual abusers in families. My father was a sexual abuser, so I have some sense of the anguish and the pain that these citizens are going through,” he said.
In response, Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged those calling for an inquiry to “bear with me”.
Mr Kenny said he has sought the advice of the Attorney General on the best way forward.
— Paul O’Brien
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved