They saved €1,000 on little Roisín – but how many more will die?

A TWO-YEAR-OLD child died because her heart operation was cancelled and the Minister for Health, Micheál Martin, calls for a report.

He doesn't need a report, and we don't need a report, to realise that little Roisín Ruddle died to save less than €1,000.

That, apparently, is the value of a young life in the Ireland of today, reputedly one of the richest countries in the EU. The little girl - an only child - died when doctors at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin had to cancel her scheduled heart surgery because there were no post-operative intensive care paediatric nurses available.

In other words, an intensive care nurse was not available to monitor her after her scheduled operation.

Consequently, she was brought home where, tragically, she died overnight.

Tragic, yes. But it is a tragedy that will happen again and again unless the Government does something immediately to ensure that adequate staff and resources are employed in such crucial sectors of our health system.

The report into her death will be conducted by the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) in consultation with doctors at Crumlin.

Strangely enough, that same health authority is compiling another report the department seems to be addicted to them on the intensive care issue in its region, but it has been specifically excluded from dealing with the issue of intensive care for children.

Possibly, if it had previously considered the question of intensive care for children, the anguish and heartbreak of little Roisín's parents would have been avoided. Instead, they will be attending a Mass of the Angels in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Ballingarry, Co Limerick, today for their only child.

Hopefully, the government will restrain itself from wheeling out any spokesperson to utter meaningless platitudes of sympathy to the family who have experienced in the most awful way what the implications of health cutbacks mean.

Unfortunately, the reality is that other families will find themselves in a similar situation unless the government contrives another piece of magic, as happened in the case of Noel Dempsey, the Minister for Education. He was rescued from the hole he was digging for himself over his plan to reintroduce third-level fees by the production of €42 million from thin air which sleight of hand also healed the rift that was developing between the two government partners over his daft idea.

The inevitability of more child deaths has been spelt out graphically in a manner that lets the government under no illusion about the consequences of their fatal policy.

On a daily basis, according to heart surgeon Freddie Woods, one-third of cases seeking admission to intensive care have to be refused because of lack of facilities primarily due to the shortage of intensive care nurses to cater for the bed space.

The Government's cap on recruitment, stemming from financial cutbacks, means that if 30 intensive care nurses are recruited, 30 others would have to be let go. Supporting Mr Woods' dire warning that other children could die because of the current situation was Phil O'Shea, Irish Nurses Organisation industrial relations director. She described the situation as "lunacy" and blamed it on endemic poor planning by the health authorities.

She said that the tragedy of Roisín could have been prevented, and warned "there is no doubt but that it will be repeated." According to a spokesperson for the Crumlin hospital, there is "a global problem" with a lack of paediatric intensive care nurses and only 13 of the hospital's 21 intensive care beds are currently open.

The Children's Rights Alliance (CRA) has demanded that the Government provide more funding for children's health care.

It reminded us that Ireland had ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but said: "Children's fundamental health care rights ... are being systematically ignored and routinely trampled upon with apparent impunity."

It is symptomatic of the indifference shown by the Government on so many crucial issues that although the Dáil passed legislation more than twelve months ago for the establishment of the office of Children's' Ombudsman, absolutely nothing has been done to put it into effect.

The chief executive of CRA, Ray Dooley, is quite right when he said it should be created immediately.

"Children urgently need an independent champion who can stand up for their rights and hold public officials and statutory bodies accountable when they engage in gross violations of children's rights," he said.

Rather belatedly, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has woken up to the fact that the health service is in dire need of an overhaul.

At their biennial conference in Tralee, the vice-president of SIPTU called for a national protest against the government's failure to improve the health service.

"It is clear to everyone that the public health system in the Republic is in crisis with the now familiar never-ending litany of ward closures, staff shortages and persistently lengthy waiting lists which is far from the standard to be expected in one of Europe's more prosperous states," said Jack O'Connor. He suggested that the trade union movement should co-operate with health campaigners in protesting against a two-tier service which he described as "a bizarre sick joke perpetrated on the most disadvantaged in our society."

Mr O'Connor is right, but then we were aware of that. Hopefully, the ICTU delegates will not depart Tralee and leave behind them nothing but lip-service about the health system.

The organisation, with most of the country's unions affiliated to it, represents the biggest social partner collaborating with the government on the implementation of a national wage policy.

As such, they wield huge power and have the influence to force a sea-change in making the government realise that people's health and lives are more important than balancing books or buying jets.

Yesterday it emerged that the Department of Health left €150 million of its budget unspent in the first half of this year, which is inexplicable given the appalling gaps in our health service.

While Micheál Martin, as Minister for Health, is directly in the line of fire over this scandal, the Government as whole is responsible for the death of the little Limerick girl and for the other deaths which will inevitably follow.

Collective cabinet responsibility applies and the government's decision to cut back drastically on the health service is directly to blame for this tragedy.

It is unconscionable that the little girl or anybody should die simply to satisfy a Scrooge-like budgetary policy which hangs onto €150 million in order to save a measly €1,000, if even that.

It is a reflection of the attitude of total arrogance which the FF conglomeration has displayed almost on a daily basis since it conned its way back to power.

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