Dáil debates

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

Adjournment Debate.

Hospital Services.

11:00 pm

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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While I appreciate the presence of a junior Minister from the Department of Health and Children — it is rare that the relevant Minister comes before the House for the Adjournment debate — I would have preferred the Minister to attend.

The health of more than 200 diabetic children is in serious danger because of inadequate treatment and staffing at Cork University Hospital. This was pointed out four weeks ago to all public representatives and Deputies in Cork city during a meeting of parents. The parents in question found it extremely difficult to attend the gathering because they had to leave children who need to be monitored on an hourly basis. While the number of diabetic children attending Cork University Hospital has almost doubled to 207 in the past three years, the number of staff at the hospital has decreased. The hospital used to have one whole-time diabetic nurse specialist but now has only a part-time diabetic nurse specialist.

Diabetic children must wait six months and sometimes longer for a check-up, despite the fact that international diabetic bodies recommend that check-ups take place every three months. I could accept such waiting times if they were the same across the country but parents of children aged as young as 18 months who have been diagnosed with diabetes are now travelling from Cork to Dublin to have them treated. This is a long journey to take every three months but at least if their child's sugar levels fluctuate they are able to obtain advice on a 24-hour basis from a nurse specialist simply by making a telephone call. If a child in Cork is diagnosed with diabetes, parents have access to a half-time nurse, an endocrinologist who is not employed full-time to treat children with diabetes, a social worker and a dietician, neither of whom is employed in a whole-time capacity for this purpose.

Type one diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children and is automatically assumed to refer to children. Having experienced the trauma of learning that her child has diabetes, one parent informed me that she was given an orange and syringe and told to practise injecting her child. She was then left on her own with no idea of how to deal with a child who experiences fluctuating sugar levels and bouts of lethargy. The terror of the experience virtually overwhelmed her.

Lack of education for parents and children, the absence of proper management of diabetes and a sense of being abandoned with no one to turn to if the treatment prescribed does not provide good blood sugar control are the major problems faced by parents. Those of us who attended the parents' meeting, including Deputy Boyle who is present, were asked to write and telephone Tony McNamara, the general manager of Cork University Hospital, and do all in our power to have the matter rectified. We were told a meeting was about to take place but Mr. McNamara would prefer to discuss matters with the parents, which is fine. Parents informed me that the meeting was unsatisfactory and merely confirmed their views. We have been informed, for example, that an advertisement for a full-time specialist nurse in diabetes care will not be placed as planned and if a recruitment procedure proceeds, it will be for a half-time specialist nurse. The parents, who are desperate, are not the type of people one finds protesting outside Leinster House, although perhaps that is what they need to do. They find it outrageous that this should happen.

The decision to take one's child to Dublin for treatment in hospital is a significant one. Parents know the difficulties involved but are prepared to face them for the sake of their children. Over the past few days, debate has taken place on a new children's hospital. We hear that millions of euro will be spent, yet Cork is a blackspot in terms of care for children with diabetes, who look forward to continued ill-health. I appeal to the Minister to insist that the hospital should employ the required number of staff. It has suggested imaginative ways of paying for nurses, involving sponsorship by drug companies of a health service for our children which the State is obliged to provide.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Lynch for raising this matter, which I will take on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney.

As the Deputy will be aware, operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services falls within the remit of the Health Service Executive. This includes responsibility for the provision and development of paediatric diabetes services at Cork University Hospital. The hospital currently employs one general paediatric consultant with a special interest in diabetes and endocrinology. A part-time clinical nurse specialist is also employed at the hospital. A full-time clinical nurse specialist post for the paediatric service will be advertised in coming weeks. This post is a development of the service and will address some of the current issues around the education and resources of the service.

The management of the hospital met with patient forum groups in February to discuss the issues surrounding the service. Hospital management has reported that the suggestions made at this meeting are currently being examined. The development of the paediatric diabetes service remains a priority for the executive management board of Cork University Hospital. The Tánaiste is confident that the Health Service Executive will continue to monitor the delivery of this service to ensure that the needs of the service users are prioritised and met.