Lung transplant – Martin must give Billy hope of life

Time is running out for Billy Burke, the young Kerry man who desperately needs a lung transplant to pursue even just a hope of life.

That hope is tantalisingly within the gift of a few crucial people who can unravel the red tape to give him a reprieve from the appalling vista he faces.

At this stage, the nation is well aware that a decision can be made to allow the critical lung transplant go ahead for the 29-year-old man suffering from cystic fibrosis.

It is intolerable that a dispute between two British hospitals stands between Billy Burke and the treatment which could save his life, a dispute which has already cost the life of a Dublin man within the past few weeks.

The Freeman Hospital in Newcastle has refused to carry out the transplant, but a hospital in Manchester is willing to do so, once the transplant lung is released from the former.

The crux of the matter lies in the fact that an agreement exists between the Department of Health and the Freeman Hospital, whereby it has exclusive rights on lungs coming from Ireland.

Yesterday, a meeting was held between representatives of the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the Newcastle hospital, which was also attended by officials of the Department of Health, as well as Mr Burke’s consultant, and it was hoped a resolution of the dilemma would emerge.

A resolution must be forthcoming, and quickly, because there is too much at stake for Billy Burke.

It is vital that Minister for Health Mícheál Martin use the steely resolve he is capable of, as witnessed in his unwavering determination on the smoking ban, to see that the barriers to the transplant are removed.

He is more than alert to the fact that this is, literally, a life and death issue for Billy Burke. If an exception has to be made in this case, extraneous of the agreement with the Newcastle hospital, then one must be made.

Understandably, the minister is anxious to continue the agreement which has, largely, benefited Irish recipients, but one which is now threatening the life of Mr Burke.

It would be totally unacceptable that an Irish death could be caused by an arrangement endorsed by an Irish Government, especially where there is even a glimmer of hope that it could have been prevented.

So far, the Newcastle hospital is adamant it will not carry out the transplant. The one in Manchester will.

Clearly, the option is a logical one. If Mr Burke’s medical specialists are happy that the hospital in Manchester is capable and willing to carry out the transplant, then it should go ahead.

Billy Burke and his family are anxious that he should be given this chance of life, and so is the Cystic Fibrosis Association, which represents another 1,100 people who might need transplants.

The association is not calling for the dismantling of the current agreement with Newcastle, and it is desirable that there continues to be a system in place to facilitate people who need lung transplants until they can be carried out in this country.

The minister must insist that an exception be made, and made immediately.

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