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Friday, September 22, 2023

Spinal surgery incidents may involve ‘wider failure of clinical governance’

“Alarming” issues relating to spinal surgery on children extends beyond malpractice and may involve “wider failure of clinical governance”, the Taoiseach has warned.

Leo Varadkar has said the more he learns about issues with procedures that were carried out in Temple Street Hospital the more serious it appears to be.

“If you have a child, awaiting surgery or needing surgery, you think at the very least that if they get the surgery, that’s going to make them better, not worse,” he said. 

“It seems that some of the surgeries were performed incorrectly, children suffered and were harmed as a result of that. That’s unbelievably serious. I can’t overstate how concerned I am about that.”

On Monday, the HSE ordered an external review of orthopedic surgery at Temple Street following a number of “serious spinal surgical incidents”.

One child has died among a group of 19 who faced a number of issues. A consultant surgeon at the centre of the controversy has been suspended. But the Taoiseach has suggested that the issue may go beyond one clinician.

“I don’t want to jump to conclusions because this will have to be investigated properly and thoroughly, and I know there’s going to be an examination by the Medical Council as well, but the kinds of things I’m hearing about and reading about, if they’re true, extend well beyond malpractice — very, very serious issues indeed. Children were harmed as a result of that.”

He added: 

I do think we have to consider the possibility that there was a wider failure of clinical governance here. And that’s something that will have to be investigated.

Given the small number of medical experts who can carry out such procedures in Ireland, Mr Varadkar suggested children may now be sent abroad to the UK or Germany as has previously been the case, to help alleviate waiting lists.

“I’ve always been open to doing that. I know that the clinicians and some others don’t like the idea that we will be building up a service abroad when we should be building our services at home. But sometimes that’s the best option for children.”

He said that as Minister for Health he had wanted to reduce children’s waiting lists for spinal surgery.

“But it is a very complicated area, it requires retaining very skilled surgeons who could be doing other work and also requires very big specialist teams, specialist beds and so on. So, it is quite a difficult area to get the waiting down no matter how much effort or resources are put behind it.

Mr Varadkar added: “It’s really important that we get to the bottom of this, and that we support parents and the families affected by this, I just can’t fathom what they must be experiencing.”

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