Temple Street scandal – cruelty of dysfunctional health system exposed

By Emma Quinn

The initial review of CHI Temple Street has exposed: 

  • Ten year-old child dead after surgeon implanted unlicensed spring he reportedly sourced from a DIY shop
  • One child endured 34 surgeries; the mean number of surgeries per child was 6
  • 75% of the children required further surgery because of wound complications
  • The level of post surgery infection rate was 73% 
  • 13 out of 16 patients required further unexpected surgeries

Most of us will have winced reading recent reports of spinal surgeries in Temple Street hospital. It is a parent’s worst nightmare to have to accept the fact that you live in a country where not only are your children not guaranteed care when they are ill but could actually be made sicker, or worse, by their admission to hospital. 

CHI and government inaction is criminal 

There have been unforgivable failures by the management of Temple Street, Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) and the government. ​The reviews were triggered by formal complaints from clinicians and nursing staff in October last year following an undisclosed serious incident in July, the death of Dollceanna Carter the following September, and a higher than normal rate of infection and post-op complications over a sustained period. 

A speedy response could have saved children from harmful surgery and reduced the impact on already endless waiting lists. Instead of taking action when the situation was flagged over a year ago, the government in typical fashion did nothing but order an extremely minimal review. It has been pressured by advocacy groups to agree to a wider review that includes scoliosis surgeries in CHI Crumlin, and is conducted by a third party. 

Surgeries are suspended and the waiting list is at an all time high 

There are now 317 children waiting for scoliosis surgery. 

  • No emergency steps have been taken to assist the children who have been directly impacted by the surgeon at the centre of the review; the parents of Dolceanna Carter still do not know why their child died and a six year-old is still waiting for an “unlicensed screw” to be removed from his spine. 
  • There have been no emergency plans to ensure that spinal surgeries will be made safe and brought to the highest world standard.
  • There has been no task force established to prevent this catastrophe from delaying spinal surgeries even more or to deal comprehensively with the situation.
  • There has been no engagement with the vast majority of parents of children on the waiting lists, leaving 317 children and their families in a state of high anxiety. 

The government is doing nothing 

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party knew well the situation with children suffering from spina bifida and scoliosis. A few years ago a campaign by parents and a major public outcry forced the government to give additional resources for scoliosis surgeries, but there has been a focus on getting through ‘lists’ (as if children are a box to be ticked) and not enough on the quality of the surgeries, on achieving optimum outcome, on aftercare, on developing expert teams and skills etc. 

Children are being abandoned while their condition turns from being operable to inoperable; while their quality of life drops before their parents’ eyes. Of course some parents with the means have taken their children abroad for surgery. 

There really couldn’t be a starker exposing of the Irish state; its crumbling public services, its disdain for the most vulnerable, its incompetentance and dysfunctionality. 

This crisis can’t be resolved without radical change

Massive pressure should now be exerted on the government to deliver justice for Dolceanna and the children who have not received the care they deserve and for immediate emergency plans for the children who are waiting. 

The consultants, surgeons, trained teams of clinicians required simply do not exist in Ireland. The type of change needed could only be delivered via gigantic investment of resources and a complete overhaul of the CHI / HSE. The reality is that this government is never going to do that. The budget surplus could have been used to deliver quality health care for children but instead they prioritise big business, private healthcare, landlords etc. 

Tragedy and inhumane treatment of children and the vulnerable is the continuing legacy of the backward Irish state; from inadequate health care, to homelessness, to poverty and inequality. Now more than ever we need to fight for a complete overhaul of this deeply unjust state and the cruel capitalist system it’s part of. 

Children whose spines are curving to the point that their heart, lungs and stomach are slowly being crushed, just can’t afford to wait. 

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