Tuesday, 4 December 2012
Topical Issues Debate
In raising this matter, I express my sympathy to the family of the late Niall Comerford, his parents, Walter and Joan, brothers, Damien and Shane, and sister, Linda. Niall Comerford was a young man who had a routine operation lasting for 15 minutes in Kilcreene Hospital on 24 September 2012. His parents complain that he was not given pre-operative advice and information on his after-care was not provided on discharge. He was simply asked to return to the hospital within ten days and visit his consultant six weeks later. On 1 November 2012, Niall died as a result of pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis. Professor Beverley Hunt, who has written many papers on deep vein thrombosis, states that the condition can be avoided or addressed by following appropriate advice.
The death of Niall Comerford has been shocking for his family who decided to wait until after the autopsy last Friday before raising the case publicly. I listened carefully to Walter Comerford speak on my local radio station in recent days. Despite his loss, Mr. Comerford is dealing constructively with his son's death and has asked publicly for an independent inquiry. When I met him before the autopsy more than a week ago he was thinking along the lines of seeking an inquiry but chose to await the outcome of the autopsy. He has since issued a public statement requesting an independent inquiry.
It is difficult to believe the Health Service Executive did not contact the Comerford family until after the autopsy. I believe it was for this reason that the family concluded it did not have confidence in the HSE. Put simply, I support the family's request and urge the Minister of State to support the family during this very difficult time by immediately establishing an independent inquiry to ascertain precisely what occurred. Such an inquiry could be carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority.
Before referring to the notes provided to me, which are, by necessity, very short, I extend my deepest sympathy and that of the Department to the family of Mr. Comerford. The loss of a child is unimaginable for most people.
Approximately one week following discharge after routine knee orthopaedic surgery undertaken at Kilcreene Orthopaedic Hospital, Kilkenny, a young man was admitted to Waterford Regional Hospital in a collapsed state and pronounced dead shortly afterwards. The Health Service Executive expresses its deepest sympathy to the family on the death of this young man. On 30 November 2012, the Waterford city coroner recorded a death of acute cardiac failure secondary to pulmonary failure, which was caused by deep vein thrombosis originating in the left calf. The orthopaedic consultant involved in the case met with the family separately approximately one week before the inquest. Following the verdict of the inquest, HSE representatives contacted the family and offered to meet them. The family are to refer back with a decision as to whether they will attend a meeting. The family have expressed their dissatisfaction and requested an independent review of the case. The HSE has confirmed that this case is being escalated to the national incident management team for completion of a review. The family will be consulted as part of this process. I am sure the Deputy will understand that further comment at this time would be inappropriate. I will convey the sentiments he expressed to the Minister for Health when we meet later.
I respect the role the Minister of State must play in this matter and note the information she provided, none of which is inaccurate or disputed. She indicated that further comment would be inappropriate. The family of Niall Comerford has requested an independent inquiry and is not interested in discussing the matter further with the HSE, as they made perfectly clear to me today. They are shocked that the HSE did not make contact with them prior to last Saturday. I am not making a big issue of this but asking the Minister of State to consider a reasonable request from the family.
The Minister of State's reply did not address the question I asked. I ask her to reconsider her response and consider, with the HSE and Department, the family's request, bearing in mind the constructive approach they have taken to this matter at a shocking and sad time. At a minimum, the Health Service Executive must change its normal tack, stop being defensive and come to the assistance of a family by acceding to its request, which was made in a public, quiet and constructive manner, for an independent inquiry.
The Minister of State will fully understand why such a family can lose its faith in the health system and the HSE. Given the poor contact between the family and the HSE, rebuilding confidence in the system, the HSE and the Department requires that similar situations be dealt with in a more sympathetic way. I do not expect a reply now, but please reconsider the family's simple request.
I will be brief. We all understand the grief that the family must be going through. A healthy young man, a son, was lost. That this situation has been escalated to the national incident management team for the completion of a review is important. As Deputy McGuinness rightly stated and as we all accept, though, I cannot give a commitment now. However, I will bring the family's request to the Minister for Health. Understandably, the family has been deeply traumatised by these events. I will not walk out of the Chamber and leave this issue behind me - I will bring it with me and discuss it with the Minister.