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Taoiseach, Health Minister to meet with families impacted by spinal surgery crisis

THE MINISTER FOR Health has said he will meet with patient advocacy groups and families of children impacted by the crisis in paediatric orthopaedic surgery at Temple Street Children’s hospital. 

Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil this evening that the meeting will be held this week alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. 

The HSE has commissioned an external review into elements of paediatric care at Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) at Temple Street following revelations that one child died and others suffered serious complications following spinal surgery there. 

The review, which will be led by Liverpool-based orthopaedics expert Selvadurai Nayagam, arises from very serious concerns identified by CHI since last year in relation to poor surgical outcomes in spinal surgery at Temple Street.

Among the concerns were the use of a certain spinal surgical technique and a significant number of negative post-surgery outcomes, which led to serious complications and in one case the death of a child.

The Health Minister was criticised last week while he was in New York attending UN and World Health Organisation meetings, with some questioning why he did not return to Ireland when the controversy first emerged. 

Addressing the Dáil this evening, Donnelly said there is “full scope” for the terms of reference of an external review into children’s spinal surgeries to be expanded, following input from affected families.

He said: “I want to start by acknowledging the distress and anxiety that this whole episode is causing to the patients themselves involved in these reviews. These are girls and boys, young women and young men and, of course, their parents and their families.”

The minister said he was “absolutely determined” to fully answer legitimate questions of families waiting on services at Temple Street hospital.

The Health Minister also offered his “deepest condolences” to the parents and family of 10-year-old Dollceanna Carter who died last year. Her case file was among 19 examined in the reviews.

Donnelly said no one can be in any doubt of the “incredible loss suffered by all those who loved this beautiful child”.

He said the use of non-CE marked springs as implants has caused great concern, but added that this was among issues which have not yet been fully clarified and investigated in the initial reviews.

Timeline

Providing a timeline to deputies, Donnelly said his department was notified of two serious patient safety incidents at the hospital in November and that an internal review into surgical outcomes had been initiated.

An external review was also commissioned and this was completed in July.

Both the internal and the external review found that the rates of complication were higher than internationally expected.

Since then, Nayagam has been appointed to lead a further, wider external review which will also consider the use of the springs in three surgeries which were reported by CHI in August.

During a session on the patient-safety concerns, Donnelly was told that “this is one of the most tragic scandals” that politicians had seen.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said: “At the heart of this scandal are 19 children and their families who have been traumatised, who have been harmed, who have been wronged and sadly in one case, a child who has passed away.

“A family which will not be whole again, and many other families who will carry the harm and trauma of what happened to their kids with them for many years to come.”

Cullinane said these families need to be placed at the centre of the State’s response, criticising the minister for “excluding patient advocates and the parents of children” from the drafting of terms of reference into the review.

‘Failure of the State’

“The failure of the State to properly care for and meet the needs of these children includes pre and after-care, follow-up care and extremely long waiting lists, which allow conditions to get worse and further complications to arise,” he said.

“I do not use the word failure lightly, Minister, but you have to accept that the State has failed those children and their families.

“The acceptance of failure of an unfit system should be your and their starting point. The exclusion of patient advocates from the drafting of the terms of reference of the independent review is a sad indication that this fundamental failure has not been accepted.”

Social Democrats TD Roisín Shortall said it was a “national scandal”.

“It’s a huge issue that needs to be dealt with and we need a timely response to it, not yet another example of putting something into a review and kicking it down the road and my fear is that that’s what’s going to happen,” she said.

Leaders’ Questions

During Leaders’ Questions earlier today, the Taoiseach confirmed that he had invited the “four or possibly five” advocacy group to meet with him and the Health Minister together. 

He said he was keen to meet them and that what they said would be taken on board before any decisions were made in relation to the review.

“I want to once again take this opportunity to acknowledge that this is a cause of great anxiety for a lot of parents, a lot of families and indeed very vulnerable children attending these services,” Varadkar said.

Asked by People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Paul Murphy about extending the review to include other children’s surgery, Varadkar said he was not sure that that was the best approach as it would take “a very long time to do”. 

“This is about spinal surgery… I think if we expand that out to every surgery done by every surgeon in all three major paediatric hospitals, we wouldn’t be coming back here with an answer for perhaps years and I’m not sure that’d be the best approach, but of course, I’m not going to rule it out at this point,” he said.

With additional reporting from PA