News Ireland daily blog Wednesday

Taoiseach wants to’visit Marie Fleming’


Taoiseach Enda Kenny wants to meet terminally ill multiple sclerosis sufferer Marie Fleming in her home, her partner has revealed.

The right-to-die campaigner had called on the Taoiseach and other legislators to see how she lives in a bid to get them to pass laws on assisted suicide.

Her partner Tom Curran held a “good frank conversation” with Mr Kenny for an hour after he previously rejected the possibility of legislation on the controversial issue.

“She (Marie) wants people to understand her point of view and the way she lives and then make the decision themselves,” said Mr Curran outside Government Buildings.

“So it’s from that point of view that she is saying ‘come and live my life’ not necessarily come and visit me.

“But he did express a wish to come and see her and he’d be more than welcome.”

Ms Fleming, 59, who lost a Supreme Court challenge earlier this year to end her life with assistance, is wheelchair bound and can only move her head.

She lives in constant pain, cannot swallow and suffers choking sessions which she fears will eventually kill her.

Mr Curran – who said his partner has plenty to live for at the moment – faces up to 14 years in jail if convicted of helping her to die.

The meeting with Mr Kenny was arranged before health chiefs were criticised for forcing the couple to prove Ms Fleming’s sickness to have a medical card renewed.

Mr Curran said the Taoiseach also felt the incident had been deplorable.

But the carer and former IT worker said he accepted an explanation that the issuing of medial cards was now centralised through a computer system and no longer personally at a local level.

“The human element hasn’t been put in to it,” said Mr Curran.

“But the thing that infuriated me so much about it was that when media did get hold of it the problem seemed to be resolved.

“I had made several phone calls and all I was getting was numerous letters and the ridiculous situation of being asked to verify Marie’s condition.

“Why couldn’t they have responded to my phone calls?”

He said the couple – who survive on her disability benefit and his carer’s allowance – knew she would eventually get a new card but feared they would not be able to pay for the 30 plus tablets a day Ms Fleming takes when her current card expired at the end of the month.

She was one of thousands of sick people being assessed for eligibility for free health care in a cost-saving crackdown.

Mr Curran said found Mr Kenny “a very understanding man” during their meeting to discuss his views on assisted suicide.

He said they both had differing views, but he understood Mr Kenny’s concerns over safeguards.

“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and he has an opinion,” he said.

“He is in a position where he has to legislate and where he has to think about everybody else and the whole issue that comes up every time is thing of safeguards.”

Mr Curran has put together a working group to examine possible legislation and safeguards in other countries where assisted suicide is permitted.

“No safeguard going to be completely fool proof,” he added.

“There are going people who will abuse, there’s no doubt about that.

“But for the small number of people that that will happen I don’t think people like Marie and other people, for instance we had eight people travel to Dignitas to be helped to die from Ireland, so it’s obviously something people do want.

“Everybody we speak to is in favour.”

Caesareans higher among Irish private patients


Private patients twice as likely to have scheduled caesarean, study of Irish hospital patients finds

A study of more than 30,000 women who gave birth at an Irish hospital found that private patients were more likely to have a C-section or a surgical delivery

)Pregnant women with private health care are twice as likely to have a scheduled caesarean birth, according to a new study.

A study of more than 30,000 women who gave birth at an Irish hospital found that private patients were more likely to have a C-section or a surgical delivery with vacuum or forceps than those whose treatment was publicly funded.

Although women with private health care are generally older, and therefore at higher risk of complications in childbirth, the disparity between the two groups was not fully explained by differences in their medical condition, researchers said.

It was not clear whether the higher rate of operative deliveries was driven by patients or doctors but it “seems quite likely that private patients are provided with greater choice”, they added.

The researchers, from Trinity College Dublin, studied data on 5,479 private patients and 24,574 publicly funded patients at the same Irish hospital to determine whether private care results in greater use of expensive procedures by doctors.

Caesarean deliveries and formula feeding linked to lifelong diseases:

Private patients were on average older, wealthier and better educated than publicly         funded patients, and were less likely to be single, childless, to have had an unplanned pregnancy or to have booked late for obstetric care.

Although they were less likely to have a medical disorder, private patients were also more likely to have had fertility treatment, problems with miscarriages, or had a previous stillbirth or child who died in infancy.

Results published in the BMJ Open journal showed that 21 per cent of private patients had a scheduled caesarean compared with nine per cent of public patients.

The difference was particularly great among women who had given birth before by C-section, while private patients were also more likely to have a surgical vaginal delivery using a vacuum or forceps.

One common argument for planned C-section is that the procedure does less damage to the pelvic floor than a natural birth, but the study showed that very few requests of this type were made.

Researchers said that older age and higher income among private patients could have played a part, while older and better educated women may also be more influenced by the fact that many obstetricians choose scheduled caesarean section for themselves.

They said the study “highlighted important differences in operative delivery rates that raise questions about equity.”

American studies have suggested that private health care can result in patients being over treated because of financial incentives which reward inefficiency.

Private accommodation charges are estimated to generate up to 20 per cent of the hospital budget in Dublin Maternity Hospitals, and changes to UK health policy mean English hospitals will now be allowed to generate up to 49 per cent of their income from private hospitals.

The researchers wrote: “One would expect that every woman, irrespective of the funding source, is managed in a way that results in the best possible outcomes for mother and baby.

“Although speculative, it seems quite likely that private patients are provided with greater choice in relation to a scheduled caesarean section. It is debatable whether this is actually in the woman’s best interest, particularly when it comes to the next birth.

“What does need to be addressed is whether higher rates of scheduled caesarean sections among private patients create access issues for medically indicated caesarean sections, and whether these patients place a disproportionate burden on the service in the postoperative period.”

Many five-year children in Ireland are overweight or obese


Economic background and amount of ‘screen-time’ linked with poor eating

Children who spent three or more hours in front of a screen were considerably more likely to consume unhealthy foods more often and five-year-olds from more socially disadvantaged families were found to have higher levels of daily screen-time

One in five five-year-olds is either overweight or obese, according to findings from the Growing Up in Irelandlongitudinal study published today.

The latest findings represent the results of interviews with the families of 11,100 five-year-olds, previously interviewed in 2008 and 2011. The interviews were carried out between March and September this year.

The problem of obesity was first identified when the children were three years old and continues to be a cause for concern. Girls are more likely than boys to be overweight.

Fifteen per cent of the children are overweight and 5 per cent are obese.

Some 39 per cent of those who were overweight at three years remain so at five with 11 per cent moving into the obese category while 38 per cent of those who were obese at three remained so at five.

A child’s socioeconomic background continues to be associated with being overweight or obese – both occur more frequently among less advantaged families.

Nine per cent of children whose mother had a Junior Certificate or less were in the obese range compared with 4 per cent of those whose mother had a degree.

The study found that the average five-year-old consumed about 1,500 calories per day while children from lower income groups consumed about d 23 per cent more calories on average each day.

The amount of “screen- time” the children engage in – hours spent each day in front of any type of screen such as TV, smartphone, computer – is associated with poorer eating habits and higher levels of obesity.

Children who spent three or more hours in front of a screen were considerably more likely to consume unhealthy foods more often and five-year-olds from more socially disadvantaged families were found to have higher levels of daily screen-time.

Prof James Williams, research professor at the ESRI and principal investigator of the Growing Up in Ireland study, said the issue of obesity needed to be addressed.

“In the main our five-year- olds are in good health. However, the overweight and obesity issue is a major one. If you have a child who is manifesting these trends at this stage of their lives the chances are they have a much higher probability of sustaining that later in life into adulthood and the effects of that are felt in a number of different areas,” he said.

“The child’s immediate wellbeing is affected, their sense of self-esteem can be adversely impacted upon and their peer relationships affected. Into later life you start to pick up other issues – cardiovascular and respiratory problems and a higher chance of type 2 diabetes.”

While the study found that 98 per cent of the five-year-olds were in good health, Prof Williams said it was important to remember the 2 per cent who were not.

The number finding it difficult to make ends meet financially has more than doubled since the families were first interviewed five years ago at the onset of the recession.

Prof Williams said the fact that one in four parents would not have been able to afford to send their child to preschool were it not for the free preschool scheme was significant.

The study found that the majority of parents reported their children had adjusted well to starting school with 84 per cent of them looking forward to going to school more than once a week. Girls were more positive about school than boys.

Most parents have a positive relationship with their five- year-olds, scoring very highly on positive aspects of parent- child relationship scales and being in the lower ranges of scales measuring parent-child conflict.

The Growing Up in Ireland study is funded by theDepartment of Children and Youth Affairs and conducted by researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College Dublin.


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