News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 11th April 2015

IMO say hospital waiting lists are shocking

Minister for Health ‘presiding over the complete disintegration of the system’


The Irish Medical Organisation and Fianna Fáil have described as shocking figures that show more than 400,000 people are on outpatient waiting lists.

Fianna Fáil said the figures showed Minister for Health Leo Varadkar was “presiding over the complete disintegration of the hospital waiting list system”.

But IMO president Prof Trevor Duffy said that while the numbers were of concern, at least it meant the scale of the challenge was now apparent.

“If it stops there, we’ll honestly know where we stand. We can then work out a plan to tackle the problem.”

Prof Duffy contrasted the latest surge in waiting lists to the situation in late 2013, when “money was used to manipulate the figures” through the provision of short-term extra funding.

He said much of this money was used to buy appointments for patients “God-knows where” and ended up being of no benefit to the patients. Many public patients, for example, who were given private appointments ended up in the public system, where they had to rejoin a waiting list.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the figures highlighted the strain the health service was under.

“Massive budget overruns, combined with the health minister’s failure to anticipate the need for increased capacity over the winter period has compounded an already dire situation, forcing hospitals to cancel procedures and resulting in waiting lists which are now completely out of control.

“Instead of trying to fix the problem, Minister Varadkar continues to prioritise his personal PR strategy, pushing out target times for waiting lists and presenting it as a major breakthrough.”

Mr Varadkar said the overall waiting list included people who had been on the list for just a few weeks. But what was of real concern was the number of people waiting for routine appointments for more than a year.

He said he had mandated the HSE to ensure that by June no patient was waiting for an appointment for more than 18 months and that by the end of the year, no patient was waiting for more than 15 months.

It could be difficult to separate urgent appointments from routine ones, he warned.

Some of the increase arises from the diversion of hospital resources to emergency departments to tackle the trolley crisis in the first months of the year. This forced the cancellation of thousands of non-urgent appointments.

Of the 405,000 on the waiting list, 184,000 have been waiting for more than six months, according to the National Treatment Purchase Fund. It doesn’t publish figures for the number of patients waiting for more than 15 months, or 18 months.

The longest lists are in orthopaedics, ENT (ear, nose and throat), general surgery and dermatology.

Irish Banks expand profit margin on lending to households

Gap between deposit rates and interest charged on loans has risen to 3.5% from 1% in 2012


The profit margin banks take between the lending rates they charge households and the deposit rates they pay to savers has grown to 3.5%, up from 1% in 2012, according to new Central Bank figures.

Deposit rates have fallen along with European Central Bank rates, but interest rates charged on mortgages and consumer loans have remained high.

The figures, which relate to February, will add to the controversy about the rates which the banks charge on standard variable mortgages, where rates for new borrowers now average 4.2%.

The rates for all new floating rate mortgages, including loan renegotiations,was 3.38%, up 0.12% in the month. The equivalent euro zone average rate was 2.09%.

Interest rates on all outstanding loans for house purchases were 2.72%, with the average figure brought down by the low rate on tracker mortgages, which were 1.04% on average for homeowners. Tracker mortgages account for roughly half of total mortgages in the market.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said there was no justification for the fact that the rate being charged in Ireland is double the rate elsewhere in the euro zone.

“We now need to have direct engagement between the Central Bank, Government and the banks, to bring about interest rate reductions for these 300,000 [variable rate] customers.”

The Central Bank is undertaking a study of the reasons why standard variable mortgage rates here are higher here than elsewhere in Europe, following recent controversy. Most banks offer lower rates to new customers than to the existing customer base.

The data showing an increased interest margin between borrowing and lending rates looks at average term deposit rates on offer for new business and average rates on offer to householders for new mortgages or consumer loans.

Growth in margin of this new business highlights the profitability of the core banking business with the margin, according to the Central Bank, high relative to the trends seen in recent years.

Health Minister ‘not aware’ of ‘whistleblower’ nurse’s suspension despite receiving a letter


The Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

Health Minister Varadkar said he had not heard of a HSE nurse’s plight in which he was suspended from his post, despite receiving a letter about the cause.

Cork-based psychiatric nurse Des McSweeney  was removed from rostered duty on paid leave after he publicly expressed concerns in relation to a new €15m psychiatric unit in Cork.

He previously told RTE Radio One he felt he was being ‘gagged’ for voicing his opinion.

Writing in the Irish Examiner, Mr McSweeney said the new unit ‘is not clinically fit-for-purpose and will ultimately endanger the lives of people using the service’.

Following the article and two separate radio interviews, Mr McSweeney received a letter from the HSE Area Director of Nursing which said he had a ‘continuing failure to ensure compliance with HSE policies and procedures relating to communications, particularly with the Media’.

The letter said Mr McSweeney was to ‘remain off rostered duty on paid leave pending a review of the matter relating to your behaviour and conduct as it relates to your employment as a Mental Health Nurse with the Health Service Executive and pending a review of the Report of the Occupational Health Department following your medical assessment on the 10th of April’.

Mr McSweeney told RTE Radio One he had written to Health Minister Leo Varadkar about the incident on March 31, but the Health Minister said today he had not heard of Des McSweeney’s case and did not want to comment on the situation until he knew all the facts.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this particular case and I’m not directly involved in staff issues in the HSE which of course is a statutory, independent agency but I can certainly get it checked out,” Minister Varadkar told RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

“I would certainly like to know the details before I give a comment.”

When informed that Mr McSweeney had written to the minister about his case, Minister Varadkar said he hadn’t seen the correspondence.

“He may well have [written to me] but I haven’t seen the correspondence. It was probably just before the Easter break,” he said.

“As you can appreciate, we run at about 900-2,000 items a week , it could have been diverted to the mental health section but I’ll certainly check it out and when I know the facts I’ll be happy to give you a response.

“Look it, I’m loathe to comment on something on the face of it, I’d like to know the details,” he continued.

“For example, I’m not sure whether this disclosure he made was under the Whistleblower’s Protection Act or not, perhaps you’d let me know.”

Mr McSweeney is a shop steward with Siptu, but wrote in the Irish Examiner that he was speaking about his concerns on his own behalf. He said his own motivation for becoming a nurse stemmed from his experience of cancer and the excellent care he received as a child.

He said the refusal of the nurses to move from the existing inadequate mental health unit at Cork University Hospital to a €15m state-of-the-art unit on the campus grounds is not solely financial.

Mr McSweeney wrote in the Irish Examiner that nurses in the unit are concerned about healthcare assistants replacing mental health nurses, the spreading of management responsibilities over two floors and that plans for a high observation ward had been temporarily shelved in an attempt to overcome staff shortages.

The nurses’ refusal to move out of the existing unit is also preventing the development of an oncology unit in the CUH, Mr McSweeney wrote.



One of Ireland’s more important events in the fight against suicide will take place this May, with Pieta House hosting its annual Darkness Into Light 5K Walk at 80 locations across Ireland and the rest of the world.

Darkness Into Light is a unique, early morning fundraising event which begins in darkness at 4.15am as thousands of people walk or run a 5km route while dawn is breaking.

This year, the walk will extend to England, Scotland, Canada, the US and Australia, with Pieta’s Oliver Skehan revealing that the event has doubled in size from last year and is going from strength to strength.

“In terms of size, there are twice as many venues as last year with 80 locations staging the event across Ireland and internationally. Last year, nearly 80,000 people took it upon themselves to take part in 40 locations and this year we’re hoping 100,000 people will come out and support us,” he said.

“63 of this year’s venues are in Ireland while the remaining 17 span five countries – England, Scotland, Australia, Canada and the United States. Due to the success of both Sydney and London in 2014 we tried to incorporate as many international venues into this year’s event and they certainly add an extra dimension to what is already a phenomenal event.”

Skehan continued to say that while Darkness Into Light is the organisation’s flagship fundraising event and helps to sustain life-saving services across its nine centres, the event also aims to increase awareness about suicide and self-harm and offer hope to those who are struggling.

“As it is our flagship fundraising event it enables us to sustain our life-saving services across our nine centres nationwide. Furthermore, it’s about increasing awareness about the scourge of suicide and self-harm and more importantly it’s about hope,” he explained.

“Hope that things can and will get better, hope that our work will continue to shine a light into the dark crevices of people’s despair and hope that people will reach out to each other, to find comfort in the support of others in what can be very, very testing times.”

He said that the aim of DIL 2015 is to get as many people as possible to set their alarms early and take part, encouraging participants to show solidarity as “no one should walk alone”.

“Ask them how they are, is it their first time, how far have they travelled, even just say hello – doing so will embellish your experience even more. Suicide and self-harm have touched every community in this country and for that reason community and community spirit is what binds Darkness Into Light together.

“Participating in Darkness Into Light sends out a crystal clear message that every community in this country has decided to stand up to suicide, to shout stop by making Darkness Into Light an event to look forward to… an event that pulls together the very same community touched by the scourge of suicide and then walks into the light. There is certainly a sense of personal accomplishment in pulling on your iconic yellow t-shirt and playing a real part in saving the lives of people up and down this country and further afield.

Swimmers warned about flesh-eating killer seals off Britain’s coast


The creatures have been spotted ripping porpoises to shreds.

Swimmers have been warned to stay away from British seals after grisly videos showed the creatures killing poropoises and feasting on their flesh.

Scientists now believe they could attack human beings – and still don’t fully understand why they are attacking porpoises.

One video shot off the coast of Pembrokeshire showed a male ripping chunks of flesh off a porpoise he has just killed, as the water turns red with blood.

Killer seals have been seen elsewhere in the world – but never off the coast of Britain.

Dafydd Rees, who shot the footage, says,  ‘I have never seen anything like it before.

Dr Tony Stringell of the Welsh Environment Agency said that people should not panic – but should keep their distance from the predators.

Dr Stringell said, ‘‘We observed this happening on four separate occasions off the coast of Pembrokeshire.


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