Harris must hold firm on public say in hospital
IT doesn’t seem like too much to ask. We, as taxpayers, are footing the bill for the new National Maternity Hospital. It will cost more than €300million to build. We, as citizens, will look to this new hospital to provide us with the very best of care for women and their babies. And we, as patients, or parents, relatives or friends of patients, consider this care to be a national priority – and that’s why we are willing to invest so very much in terms of money, but also of trust, in this project.
Our national health service is not exactly state-of-the-art itself, and despite the vast amounts of taxpayers’ funds we pump into it, it seems to be getting worse rather than better. And still we’re prepared to channel so much revenue into its hands in the hope and expectation that it will deliver us a maternity service that is safe, effective and reliable.
So it doesn’t seem too much to ask that we, as taxpayers, citizens and patients, should have some say in how it is run. A single public interest seat on the board of the new hospital, in circumstances where the public interest hasn’t always been the primary concern of our health service, is the least we can expect.
The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, certainly thinks so. But the building project is deadlocked because the existing board of the new hospital has yet to agree. And, this week, the minister was warned to stop ‘meddling’ and get on with signing off on the project by the end of this month.
If he does not, if he digs his heels in and insists that a public interest director gets a seat on the board, then there’s a risk that the design plans will have to be scrapped.
An Bord Pleanála’s approval of the plans depended on the initial construction contracts being signed by December 31. So if Minister Harris doesn’t cave in on his demand for a public representative on the new hospital board, then it’s all back to the drawing board.
There are those who are hoping the minister will blink first – and by extension the taxpayers, citizens and patients. If the board maintains its current make-up of four members each from St Vincent’s Hospital Group and Holles Street National Maternity Hospital, and the minister holds his nerve, the whole project is at risk.
If Minister Harris, on our behalf, doesn’t back down on this matter, then the provision of safe and essential services for women and babies could be years into the future.
The Health Minister has stated frankly that he reckons he’s being bullied. However, he will not be ‘pressurised publicly’, he says, ‘into settling for anything less than the women of Ireland would rightly expect’.
In reality, he’s being asked to settle for less than the average householder, building a new kitchen, would rightly expect. He’s being asked to settle for less than the average parent, sending their children to the local school, would rightly expect.
All school boards include a parents’ representative, to voice the views of the people most affected by their management and ethos. And even if you’re just re-plumbing your kitchen for a new dishwasher, you would expect a say in how it’s all going to work.
THE minister is right: he should not be bullied or pressurised into signing off on the deal that the board demands on pain of delay and chaos. There’s still a lingering disquiet about the new hospital, even after the withdrawal of the Religious Sisters of Charity from the project. A protest demanding, ‘Make Our National Maternity Hospital Public’ will take place in Dublin city centre today. The practice of medicine is based on trust. Doctors require us to trust our lives to their skill, experience and dedication, but the days when patients could be cowed and intimidated by a consultant with a God complex are coming to an end.
We’ve seen too many cases where patients’ concerns are brushed aside, with tragic consequences. Of the 11 patients whose cancer diagnoses were initially missed in Kerry University Hospital, two had re-presented themselves – presumably having been discharged and assured they were fine. One of them is now dead.
The medical profession has to accept that transparency is the best disinfectant, and that acknowledging the rights of patients to be informed, consulted and respected benefits everyone. And that acknowledgement must include admitting a public interest director onto the board of the new National Maternity Hospital.
The taxpayers, the citizens and the patients have a right to be represented – if some people are prepared to stall, or even scrap, the project rather that honour that right, then at least we will know who to blame.