Controversy mounts among groups as March 9th protest is postponed
Eoghan Dalton Reports
All the necessary building blocks were being put in place to ensure a sustainable cardiology service for the people of the South East into the future, said Waterford Oireacthas members yesterday (Tuesday).
The TDs and Senators had met at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) along with the CEO of the South/Southwest Hospital Group, senior HSE staff, UHW’s new General Manager Grace Rothwell and UHW’s cardiology team, to hear that the feasibility study and site selection process to construct a second cath lab has completed.
The HSE is now ready to appoint a Design Team for the project according to a statement released by local Oireachtas members. The statement also said that the project has been identified as a ‘priority’ within the new Capital Plan for 2019 by Minister for Health Simon Harris and the HSE. The new lab, which will cost €4.9 million to construct and fit out, will have the capacity for both diagnostic and interventional work and will be constructed over the existing ground floor Cardiology Department. The plans include the construction of a new recovery/day ward adjacent to the second lab.

Waterford Castle Hotel has lent its support to the 'Have A Heart' campaign by emblazoning the slogan onto the Joe Caslin mural on the Ard Rí Hotel. 	| Photo: Waterford Castle

Waterford Castle Hotel has lent its support to the 'Have A Heart' campaign by emblazoning the slogan onto the Joe Caslin mural on the Ard Rí Hotel. | Photo: Waterford Castle

Best option
It was agreed at the meeting by both medical staff and Oireachtas members that the construction of a permanent interventional cath lab was the best option to expand cardiology services in the region, with consultants noting that the provision of a new recovery/ day ward adjacent to the second lab was a welcome addition to the plans. The existing day ward is located at the other side of the hospital to the cath lab.The process to recruit a new full-time interventional cardiologist at University Hospital is to be fast-tracked. This new posting is required to facilitate extending the opening hours of the existing lab from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday and also to support the second interventional lab when it opens.
Waterford Oireachtas members said they were satisfied, following the two-hour meeting, that:
“We are fully in agreement with UHW’s Cardiology team that a second, fully-interventional cath lab is the only sustainable option to service both the current and future cardiology needs of patients in the South East. We look forward to the speedy appointment of the project’s Design Team and to seeing physical progress on the new cath lab in the months ahead.”
The news came following a difficult week for local campaign groups as the cardiac care protest scheduled for Saturday, March 9th in Dublin having been called off by organisers, with the intention to hold it at a later date.
Campaigners were concerned that a housing and homeless rally taking place the same day by Dublin-based organisations would mean they would get crowded out by the larger protest.
‘No longer being respected’
However, recent days have seen different groups make various claims in statements released to the media, with one drawing attention to a supposed hijacking of the 24/7 campaign by political parties and politicians.
The South East Patient Advocacy Group (SEPAG) said last week that it now fears that its “people-led campaign ethos that we have always endeavoured to adhere to…is no longer being respected. Our fear is that with the upcoming elections looming that this campaign may be used for political gain”.
The statement further alluded to the group being left out of the decision making process in the 24/7 campaign.
“We are asking that SEPAG be included in all key decisions regarding the overall campaign. We are calling for an end to individuals making decisions on SEPAG’ s behalf without any proper consultation with us. This campaign will only succeed if we have full cooperation and unity amongst the groups.”This statement was mirrored by a separate statement from the Still Waiting Health Campaign, which said it had not been consulted on the decision to defer the Dublin protest.
“The holding of a housing protest on the same date would have encouraged us to attend rather than deter as many would have liked to support both,” it said. “The organisers of the Dublin march contacted Still Waiting regarding the timing of the event so that both would not clash.”The Still Waiting statement also says that the group, which is a regional branch of a national platform, was not consulted on the decision to hold the protest in the first place, “but we were happy to support if that was the majority decision”.
On this point the chairman of Health Equality for the South East (HEFSE), Cllr Matt Shanahan, told the Munster Express that the March 9th date was “discussed and agreed by all groups a number of weeks prior to the Waterford Rally at a meeting of three campaign groups in Ramada Hotel”.
The three campaign groups referred to here are HEFSE, SEPAG and 24/7 Cardiac Cover for the South East.
Cllr Shanahan added: “That time and date was subsequently agreed by the Waterford Trades Council well in advance of the January date.”This is contested however by the vice-president of the Trades Council, Cllr Joe Kelly.
He told this newspaper yesterday evening (Monday) that he only became aware of the Dublin protest the day after the rally in Waterford on January 19th. Another Trades Council member said they felt like they had been “bounced into” the March date without any consultation.
‘Clean hands’
Cllr Kelly insisted the Trades Council has “absolutely clean hands” on the controversy around the local campaign. “We have not impinged on anyone and we have not created rumours,” he said. Meanwhile, Cllr Matt Shanahan disagrees with the view put forward by SEPAG, that the platform for 24/7 cardiac care is only now becoming politicised:“I will admit to having a political agenda – and that is to do all possible to deliver 24/7 to the South East. I will not apologise for that and nor will I stand aside from speaking to represent HEFSE or ask another already involved to do so at any upcoming rallies promoting same.”
He disagreed that his recent co-option to Waterford City and County Council had become a distraction. “We knew there was always the chance that people might regard the appointment as a cynical exercise but on balance the group’s feeling was that it could deliver increased value, PR and political profile to the campaign.“It would be nice to think that a public unaligned apolitical grouping could deliver political change without ever acting in a political way, I am not sure I have ever witnessed or heard of that. Marches, street activity, vocal demonstrations are all political activities.”
The Still Waiting group has also now called on the other groups to join it to lobby on health issues beyond cardiac care.
“In other regions, local campaigns have joined Still Waiting as a wider umbrella campaign to lobby for the demands of the communities. The agreed platform has been thrashed out over more than two years to promote a National Health Service, implement Sláintecare and campaign against any cuts to the public health service at regions and in the capital.
“This has not happened in Waterford. If the other health campaigns do not support this broad platform, which is essential to the delivery of 24/7 and all regional services currently lacking in Waterford, they should be called on to clarify their position.”
Cllr Joe Kelly said the Trades Council would be prepared to put their “shoulders to the wheel and put our own resources into the campaign, because all of our members need that service”.