Harris must hold firm on pub­lic say in hos­pi­tal

Irish Daily Mail - - Power’s People -

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.

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