I am grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important subject and am glad the Minister for Health and Children is present to hear my concerns again.
Last June, through parliamentary questions and on the Adjournment debate, I raised concerns about the threat to surgical services at Cavan General Hospital. I expressed particular concern about the threatened withdrawal by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland of recognition of five surgical trainee posts in the hospital. The Minister for Health and Children was requested last August by the chief executive officer of the North Eastern Health Board to establish an inquiry following the suspension of two consultant surgeons.
I secured another Adjournment debate in early February on the difficulties facing the surgical department at Cavan General Hospital. It has been stated repeatedly that the suspensions arose from interpersonal difficulties between two eminent surgeons in the department. I outlined in the debate and elsewhere that those interpersonal difficulties should have been dealt with firmly and in good time by the senior management of the health board. Unfortunately, the health board was lacking in such firm management and necessary human resource management. Health board management failed to address serious emerging difficulties and the subsequent inquiry has been much too slow.
Over the years I regularly met people who outlined their great satisfaction with the work and expertise of consultant surgeons attached to Cavan General Hospital. I also acknowledge the excellent work done and treatment provided in the medical department and in the gynaecology and obstetrics unit. The personnel attached to the hospital in all disciplines are rightly held in high esteem by the communities of Cavan-Monaghan, north Longford, south Leitrim and north Meath and people appreciate their commitment, professionalism and dedication to duty.
Unfortunately, a number of outcomes following surgical procedures or medical treatment give rise to legitimate grievance and mourning for families and, sadly, no way back for the patient. Previously, by way of parliamentary question, I raised with the Minister the need to involve the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, in advancing and extending the work of the surgical department in the hospital. I was glad to learn that the North Eastern Health Board has sought the advice of the RCSI and is working closely with the college in this regard. I am also glad the Minister met the medical board of the hospital some time ago and I hope the proposals tabled at the meeting can be advanced.
This matter also relates to additional resources for the surgical department. An additional consultant surgeon is needed and I request the Minister to make such an appointment as quickly as possible. The people of Cavan believe that the surgical department of the general hospital has the potential to deliver an excellent service to its catchment area. Leadership and support for the department is necessary to achieve that outcome. There should be improved co-operation and exchange of personnel between the two surgical departments at Cavan and Monaghan hospitals.
A hospital the size of Cavan General Hospital should have special links with one of the large teaching hospitals in Dublin such as the Mater Hospital or Beaumont Hospital. Such links could be used for exchange of staff and other necessary support, especially when difficulties or pressures might emerge. The suggestion should be explored.
The health board, in recently reviewing a limited number of surgical cases, should have called on the expertise of a professional from another health board area. If the next of kin in the cases under review have concerns about the treatment of relatives, they should be treated with the utmost consideration and an independent review of such cases should be undertaken without delay. I hope the Minister can impress upon the health board the need for such consideration and I thank him for his efforts and commitment to date in dealing with these difficult issues.