Patients in South East subjected to ‘medical apartheid’

Catherine Power holds a picture of her brother Thomas. Pictures: Sam Boal/

Patients and families seeking full cardiac care services in the South East region have warned they are being subjected to “medical apartheid” as campaigners gathered outside the Dáil.

Ministers and TDs from the region were confronted by cardiac care campaign groups yesterday, while Health Minister Simon Harris was criticised for not meeting families.

Several hundred people marched on Leinster House demanding 24-hour cardiac services and mobilised support after Co Waterford farmer Tom Power died of a heart condition while being transferred to Cork on Sunday, June 18.

His sister Catherine yesterday met politicians and campaigners but had strong words for ministers, including Mr Harris.

“Contact me and get these doors opened. Now! The South East deserve this. I don’t want another summer just because he is swanning off now, booking his holiday. I expected him to be there.

“He doesn’t realise the risk he is putting people in from the South East. He has one job — to look after people’s health.”

Ciara Gore from Waterford, 11, joins protesters outside Leinster House in calling for a 24/7 cardiac facility for the South East.

Hilary O’Neil, founder of the South East Patient Advocacy Group, said families in the region were suffering in a “medical apartheid”. “Our lives are as important as people from Cork, Limerick and Dublin,” she said.

Mr Power (39), from Bell Lake near Dunmore East, died in an ambulance near Dungarvan. The father-to-be had not been able to access urgent care at University Hospital Waterford where cardiac services close at night-time and on weekends.

The death raised questions as to whether Mr Power would have survived if he had been able to access the type of cardiac services available in Dublin or Cork.

Protesters make sure their voices are heard outside Leinster House.

The Government is relying on a review to reject demands that the South East needs a second full-time cath lab and, instead, have plans for a temporary facility and a further review.

The issue was raised by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in the Dáil yesterday, where he said a report in 2012 for the HSE had recommended a second cath lab — where special equipment is used to examine a person’s heart — for Waterford.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar replied that money had been set aside for a mobile lab and additional hours provided for staff. A national review will be conducted at a late stage, he said.

Minister Harris, in a statement, said he had expressed his deepest sympathy to the Power family. Extra funding of €500,000 had been provided for Waterford Hospital to improve services, he said.

He reiterated that all decisions on how to configure health services must be “evidence based”. A further review of the cardiac services at Waterford will also be undertaken.

But other campaigners and patients say they will not wait for more reviews or promises. Jill Hicks from Waterford, who has an irregular heartbeat condition, described how she received treatment for her illness. She was lucky, she said.

“I was very aware of my own mortality. I live 10 minutes from Waterford Hospital, yet I have to travel at least 90 minutes to Dublin or Cork if something is wrong. This is unsafe. We want the same cardiac care services that families elsewhere have. A temporary laboratory is not good enough. There are literally people dying on the side of the street now.”

Junior jobs minister John Halligan, a Waterford TD, said the review and temporary lab was by no means the final solution: “It is an interim measure while we continue to fight for improved services at UHW and that fight is only beginning, judging by the crowd who turned out at Leinster House.”


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