Portlaoise staff ‘face serious charges’

Staff embroiled in the Portlaoise Hospital baby deaths scandal are facing serious charges by their professional regulatory bodies while the HSE is considering taking disciplinary action “against some individuals in management positions”.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar confirmed the moves are taking place during a late night Dáil debate on the crisis, as opposition parties claimed the issue is proof patients are no longer safe in the system.

Speaking during a Fianna Fáil private members motion seeking to ensure all recommendations from the recent Hiqa report are implemented in full, Mr Varadkar said many of the actions are already under way.

The minister said a maternity services strategy is being drawn up, that the Coombe hospital is now overseeing maternity services at the facility and a reform “steering group” which includes two women who lost babies at the hospital has already been established.

In addition, Mr Varadkar said a patient advocacy service called for in the Hiqa report which bears a striking similarity to a body outlined in the Programme for Government before being shelved 18 months ago will be in place by May 2016.

Crucially, he added while he cannot fire people “without a fair hearing” action is also being considered against frontline staff involved in the case and managers who did not implement previously sought reforms.

“A number of staff have had complaints made to their professional regulatory bodies, in relation to their involvement in care in Portlaoise. In addition, the HSE is finalising an investigation. This may result in disciplinary action being taken against some individuals, in management positions.”

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the reality is that “political interference” contributed to the deaths and that politicians and managers ignored “alarm bells ringing loudly” about the service for years.

Party colleague Sean Fleming questioned whether “criminal cases” may be necessary as “a visit by the gardaí” is the only way to make “put the fear of god” into HSE managers to make them do their job.

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