Surgeon’s exasperation - Indifference must be stamped out

ONE should never underestimate the ability of bureaucrats to foul up, and the health service has been providing a stream of appalling examples in recent years.

Thus one may be surprised that anyone could any longer be shocked by disclosures about our healthcare system, but the events described at Cork University Hospital should exhaust our vocabulary of outrage.

The complaints were not from tortured patients or distraught members of their families, but from a consultant plastic surgeon working at the hospital. In obvious exasperation he wrote to the hospital’s general manager and copied 30 of the hospital staff highlighting events on just one shift during which a critically ill woman who had suffered a serious chest injury that required a breast removal was left on an A&E trolley for the night without morphine.

The consultant described the woman’s injury as resembling a battle zone wound. Yet she was left lying in agony. If anybody treated a farm animal in such a cruel way, the animal rights people would be rightly outraged. The public, which is funding this appalling service, should be even more outraged.

The same day there were 34 patients on trolleys, and the same surgeon requested that a 70-year-old woman be taken to surgery requiring the amputation of an arm at 4:30pm. But it was five hours later before he got to operate on the woman.

During the wait, he complained, the patient’s hand continued to swell making the procedure “much more difficult” and causing unnecessary loss of blood. Why did these things happen? The public should insist on a explanation, because they will happen again and again, if those responsible are not held accountable.

People should realise this was not a case of discrimination against the two unfortunate women involved. They could have been anyone’s mother or grandmother. This kind of treatment is indiscriminate and indicative of sheer incompetence or contempt of some in the health system. It must be disheartening for the many conscientious doctors, nurses, and other staff.

This was not just a once-off incident. The consultant plastic surgeon Jason Kelly noted in his email that similar incidents “happened before”. He has complained in the past but without getting any obvious results.

Whoever leaked the email should be congratulated, along with Mr Kelly, for having the commitment to highlight these outrages. They may have run the risk of antagonising some people in the hospital, but anyone who thinks such indifference and inefficiency should not be exposed is part of the problem and should promptly be deemed unfit to serve in any hospital.

Problems at the hospital need to be rectified immediately, especially when there are plans for it to take on between 300 and 400 extra breast cancer patients annually under the National Cancer Control Programme. If the hospital is not capable of treating patients properly, how can it hope to cope with the extra workload?


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