HSE slammed for attempt to ‘silence’ consultant
• Medical colleagues express outrage at move

Eamonn Lacey

Eamonn Lacey

A letter sent by the HSE to silence a senior consultant who advocated for mental health services has caused outrage in South Tipperary.

The letter, sent to Dr. Alan Moore, a consultant psychiatrist who has spearheaded a campaign to save St Michaels psychiatric unit in Clonmel which the HSE announced on Tuesday of last week would now close at the end of March 2012, has shocked medical colleagues and has been condemned as ‘bully boy HSE tactics’ by the Save Our Hospital campaign group.

Dr. Moore was threatened with disciplinary action if he spoke out about management of the HSE again on July 21. Details of the letter were revealed at a special meeting of the Save Our Hospital Group last Thursday night which was held to discuss the HSE announcement two days earlier of the closure of the unit.

A leading consultant at South Tipperary General Hospital, Dr.P aud O’Regan has condemned the letter and called for it to be withdrawn and an apology to be issued to Dr. Moore immediately.

The ‘silencing’ controversy will be an issue to be raised this Thursday when South Tipperary elected representatives meet Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch.

The letter was sent to Dr. Moore on July 21 by Mr Frank Kelly, Clinical Director of Mental Health Services in Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary, following comments made in the media by Dr. Moore who has advocated for the retention of a 20/25 bed acute in Clonmel since it was threatened with closure.

“It is quite extraordinary for a medical colleague to effectively silence a fellow doctor. It’s very damaging for the doctor, the patients and the services he was trying to represent and it sets an extremely dangerous precedent as to how the rest of us who are attempting to advocate on behalf of patients and services may be handled,” he said.

Dr. O’Regan said he was outraged by the threatening tone of the letter sent to Dr Moore and said such ‘anti democratic’ action was a sign that the political system needed to take on in a ‘serious way the monster of the HSE which they created”

Dr O’Regan said he and all the consultants who were aware of the contents of the letter were shocked by the executive and the way they went about preventing a very respected doctor from advocating for his patients and the services which he feels should be provided for them.

He was very disappointed that while Health Minister James Reilly had declared a moratorium on closures, the HSE were busy preparing the ground for the closure of St. Michaels and an important element of that for them was silencing the most vocal and public of their critics.

Dr. O’Regan said it was very worrying that the only people to be involved in the consultative process were those who only agreed with the HSE policy.

The Chairman of the Save Our Hospital group Deputy Seamus Healy said there was widespread anger, shock and indeed disbelief at the recent bullying and silencing by the Health Service Executive of Dr Moore.

The letter was condemned at a Save Our Hospital Committee meeting and all present supported Dr Moore and renewed its determination to ensure the continued provision of acute in-patient psychiatric services at St. Michael’s Unit at South Tipperary General Hospital.

Deputy Healy said Dr Moore had the support of all stake holders in the Mental Health Services in the county. He was an able and experienced professional, widely respected in the consultant psychiatric community and in the community generally.

“This action by the Health Service Executive is bullying of the worst kind and will not be accepted. The way to stop bullying is to stand up to bullies and that is what we intend doing. Dr Moore has been doing no more that expressing the unanimous views of his South Tipperary Consultant colleagues and the views of all but one of his Kilkenny colleagues,” he said.

Deputy Healy said the Health Service Executive were silencing Dr Moore, an experienced and well-respected consultant, while at the same time accepting “advice” from an individual who claims to represent local service users even though he is neither elected nor appointed and is not from the county nor does he reside in the county.

Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan said he could not understand why the HSE announced closure of St. Michaels before elected representatives had attended the scheduled meeting with Minister Lynch this Thursday.

“What the HSE presented in their media briefing last week was nothing short of hypocrisy, there is absolutely no basis or evidence shown as to why St. Michaels Unit should be closed, they have been quoting the Department’s document ‘Vision for Change’ and that they are basing their decision on this report, ‘Vision for Change’ actually states and recommends that there be two Acute units in the region, one in Kilkenny and one in South Tipperary, so I am at a loss on this” he said.

“I am extremely disappointed with this decision and indeed with Minister Lynch for allowing such an announcement take place when she had agreed to meet with us, it really is an insult to local democracy,” said the mayor.

MEP Phil Prendergast said there was an arguable case for retaining a smaller unit at St Michael’s which she planned to make to Minister Lynch

“I remain to be convinced there is enough acute bed capacity overall in the system because the recession has led to a severe deterioration in the country’s mental health and existing acute facilities are under constant pressure.

Deputy Mattie McGrath has condemned their actions and the Government Ministers for their continual refusals to meet with South Tipperary Oireachtas Members.

“We the Oireachtas Members for South Tipperary have been completely ignored by the HSE and the Minister for Health. Our requests to meet with Minister Reilly have been ignored and Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch TD paid a flying visit to St. Michael’s without informing the Oireachtas Members” said Mr McGrath

“The HSE attempted to close St. Michael’s last year, however following action from the Oireachtas members, Minister Moloney put it on hold and appointed Professor Hillery to investigate the matter.”

“Dr. Hillery’s recommendations have been ignored and the HSE are continuing with their bully-boy tactics. It is absolutely outrageous that the HSE and the Department of Health will not consult with the South Tipperary Oireachtas members and all other stakeholders.”

“It is also outrageous that South Tipperary Oireachtas Members are the last to hear the plans as we were not invited to the Press conference last week” oncludedMr McGrath

Deputy Tom Hayes said he was extremely disappointed to hear of the planned closure of St. Michael’s.

“I was even more disappointed with the lack of consultation between the HSE and the public representatives of South Tipperary, having failed to notify a single Oireachtas member of their decision despite countless efforts on our part to secure the future of this unit.

However, it’s now time to focus on what lies ahead. My immediate priority is to eliminate the uncertainties that now exist following this announcement, and to identify the community based services that will begin in May of next year. This week’s deputation to Minister Kathleen Lynch is both timely and important, and will allow us the opportunity to discuss these topics,” he said.

The HSE said it had engaged in a comprehensive consultation and engagement process, as regards the next phase implementation of a “Vision for Change” in Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary Mental Health Services.

The HSE signed up to and delivers on its commitments under the Consultants Contract 2008. Under Section 16 of 2008 Contract which state a consultant may advocate on behalf of patients/service users or persons awaiting access to service.

In the first instance such advocacy should take place within the employment context through the relevant Clinical Director or other line manager. Information given to the public should be expressed in clear and factual terms. It must never cause unnecessary public concern or personal distress nor should it raise unrealistic expectations.

The HSE South said it was very cognisant of this matter in relation to statements being issued in relation to mental health services and encourages all those involved in public statements to be clear and factual.