Parents take protest to Cabinet as paediatric crisis deepens

HUNDREDS of angry parents are planning to picket the Government’s Cabinet meeting in Cork this morning as paediatric services for thousands of special needs children face collapse.

The protest follows yesterday’s revelation that the consultant paediatrician, who treats severely disabled children in the south, is to quit his job in October and move to Dublin.

Dr David Coghlan, who looks after the acute needs of up to 2,000 children - and onward referrals for up to 10,000 children in need of developmental therapies - blamed the failure of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Southern Area to properly resource his clinics for his decision.

It also emerged consultant paediatric haematologist Professor Peter Kearney, who oversees treatment sessions at Cork University Hospital (CUH) and the Mercy University Hospital (MUH) for children with leukaemia, is officially retired. However, Prof Kearney will continue to work in absence of a replacement.

A HSE Southern Area spokespesron yesterday said Prof Kearney would remain until the end of summer.

She said they had applied to Comhairle na nOspidéal, responsible for sanctioning consultant posts, to appoint a replacement consultant paediatric haematologist.

The departure of Dr Coghlan, who is moving to Tallaght Hospital, means clinics he provides to children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and a variety of other syndromes, are under threat. The HSE spokesperson said it had applied “as a matter of urgency” to Comhairle for a locum replacement who would take over Dr Coghlan’s job at the MUH as well as attending his weekly clinics.

She also said Dr Coghlan’s decision to quit his post came just weeks before the publication of a report designed to improve paediatric services in the south. Dr Coghlan is a member of the group compiling the report.

She said €700,000 was earmarked for implementation of the report’s recommendations. However, Dr Coghlan said “neither he nor the Mercy” had been made aware of this funding.

A statement from the Department of Health said the manner in which this funding would be spent “including the option of the appointment of a second consultant paediatrician”, will be determined by the recommendations made by the working group.

Irish Progressive Association for Autism spokesman Kieran Kennedy, representing many parents whose children are treated by Dr Coghlan, said they “had grave reservations colleagues of Dr Coghlan may also consider their positions in light of his resignation.” “Resources in Cork are not what they are in Dublin.”

Fine Gael health spokes-man Dr Liam Twomey said the brain drain would continue as long as the Government poured money into Dublin hospitals. He criticised the distribution of consultant posts, claiming Comhairle failed to ensure each region had its required number of specialists.

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