Renewed Irish water fluoridation review call

THERE were renewed calls last night for a review of Ireland’s mandatory fluoridation of Irish water.

This followed a study found weight gain and depression caused by an under-active thyroid is linked to high levels of fluoride in water.

Scientists say water fluoridation above a certain level is linked to 30 percent higher than expected rates of hypothyroidism in England. Worryingly, the fluoride levels of concern are considerably LESS than the maximum levels of fluoride the HSE puts into our water supply here.

imgresLast night Fianna Fail Cork County councillor Christopher O’Sullivan said: ‘I wouldn’t be in a position to debate the pros and cons of the science behind fluoridation. But this study reiterates the need for a wider debate and a review of this country’s mandatory fluoridation of water supplies.’

He was behind a motion passed last March in which Cork County Council became the first council to call on the government to stop putting fluoride into water supplies. The call was followed by similar ones from councils in Kerry, Dublin, Cavan and Wexford.

He added: ‘I only put forward the motion on an issue of freedom of choice. Fluoride hasn’t been removed from our supply in Cork despite the successful vote, which has cross-party support.

‘There is enough evidence to create doubt about the use of it in our country’s water supply. I would hope this study encourages the government to review the issue. There needs to be an independent study into its use, especially as the last big one was back in 2000.’

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water and certain foods including tea and fish. Its main benefit is in helping reduce the risk of tooth decay. As a result the mineral is added to many brands of toothpaste, and in some areas, to the water supply.

But researchers at the University of Kent have warned the mineral may be responsible for triggering underactive thyroids. Also known as hypothyroidism, the condition prevents the thyroid – a gland in the neck – producing vital hormones.

That in turn, promotes weight gain, causes depression and tiredness in sufferers. The authors, led by Professor Stephen Peckham, conclude: ‘Consideration needs to be given to reducing fluoride exposure.’ The scientists examined 2012 levels of fluoride in drinking water supply.

Professor Stephen Peckham
Professor Stephen Peckham

They looked at these fluoride levels in conjunction with the national prevalence of underactive thyroid. The researchers also carried out a secondary analysis, comparing two built-up areas. The West Midlands, which is supplied with fluoridated drinking water, was pitched against Greater Manchester, which isn’t.

Where fluoride levels were above 0.7mg per litre – which is 0.1mg less than the maximum limit put into Irish water – they found higher than expected rates of hypothyroidism than in areas with levels below this dilution. High rates of hypothyroidism were at least 30 per cent more likely in GP practices located in areas with fluoride levels in excess of 0.3mg per litre, which is .3mg less than the bottom limit put into Irish water supplies.

Fluoridation of drinking water supplies, which has been going on since 1964, is governed by Fluoridation of Water Supplies Regulations 2007. The Health Service Executive has responsibility for fluoridation policy and for coordinating all matters relating to the implementation of the fluoridation of water supplies in Ireland.

The Regulations require the amount of fluoride which may be added to public water supplies shall be such that the water, after the addition of the fluoride, shall contain not more than 0.8 milligrams of fluoride per litre (mg/l) of water, and not less than 0.6 milligrams of fluoride per litre (mg/l) of water.

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A spokesperson for Irish Water said last night: ‘Irish Water act as agents of HSE in fluoridating water supplies in succession to the local authorities who were agents of the Department of Health/HSE since 1964 following the introduction of fluoridation in Ireland by way of the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960.

‘Irish Water complies with the above Regulations in fluoridating water supplies.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘Water fluoridation is the adjustment of the natural concentration of fluoride in drinking water to the optimal recommended level for the prevention of dental decay.

‘Fluoride strengthens the teeth, strong teeth result in fewer fillings, fewer extractions and fewer visits to the dentist. In Ireland, the Forum on Fluoridation reviewed fluoridation policy in 2000 and concluded the fluoridation of public piped water supplies should continue as a public health measure.

‘The Department of Health keeps the policy of water fluoridation under constant review.

‘As part of this ongoing work, a review of evidence on the impact of water fluoridation at its current level on the health of the population has been conducted by the Health Research Board on behalf of the Department. This is currently being finalised.’

HSE should stop ‘spin’ and prove services ‘safe’

Roisin and Mark Molloy, parents of baby boy who died in Portlaoise Hospital
Roisin and Mark Molloy on the Prime Time programme last year.

THE MOTHER of a baby who died in Portlaoise Hospital yesterday demanded the HSE prove their maternity services are safe.

Roisin Molloy’s call came after the HSE’s Dr Alan Finan re-assured people about the safety of maternity services in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda.

Dr Alan Finan was responding to a HSE report which found 13 ‘significant incidents’ of a breech birth being diagnosed there over a two year period.

The Clinical Director of Women and Children Services in the North East’s had told Newstalk’s Breakfast programme: ‘I believe services in Drogheda are certainly on a par with the major centres around the country.

‘It has transformed itself and it currently runs a very open and honest service.

‘It is at the forefront of maternity care nationally.

‘And I have no hesitation in re-assuring the public who use maternity services in Drogheda that it is an excellent service.’

The Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise as featured in RTE.com Prime Time investigation
Portlaoise Hospital

But, speaking on the station’s lunchtime news programme later, Mrs Molloy said HSE ‘spin’ on the issue of safety was not acceptable anymore.

And she said that unless the HSE can prove the safety of its maternity services, she was unable to take HSE assurances about safety seriously.

She also claimed that parents affected by maternity services-related incidents are being kept in the dark by the HSE.

And she urged all mothers and fathers using maternity services to have the confidence to demand answers to anything they were unsure about.

Mrs Molloy’s baby son Mark died 22 minutes after being born on January 24, 2012 after a delayed emergency Caesarean section.

The failure by staff to act promptly when a foetal heart monitor showed he was in distress at the Midlands Regional Hospital. Portlaoise, also contributed to his death.

Mark Molloy junior shortly after his birth at Portlaoise Hospital
Baby Mark Molloy Jr shortly after his birth.

Mrs Molloy and husband – also called Mark – sued the HSE in relation to his death.

The case of the couple, from Co Offaly, featured in the RTÉ’s Investigations Unit’s programme ‘Fatal Failures’ a year later. (It can be watched here)

Mrs Molloy, who had initially been told by hospital staff son Mark had been stillborn, said: ‘The issue of whether maternity services are safe in Ireland is of question because we don’t have research to say that it is

‘Up until Mark’s death and Savita Halappanavar’s death, we would say that maternity services in Ireland had really gone under the radar.

‘There was numerous deaths in our hospitals right across Ireland, babies deaths that could have been prevented, mothers’ deaths that could have been prevented.

‘It’s no longer good enough for the HSE coming out with the spin that Irish maternity services are safe.

‘We need to see why they are safe.

‘We need to see why these incidents keep happening again and again and again.

‘So, unless the HSE are going to give us real reasons as to why we can believe that the HSE are safe, I wouldn’t believe it, I don’t believe it now.’

Screenshot from RTE.com Prime Time programme of Roisin Molloy with baby Mark shortly after his death at Portlaoise Hospital
Roisin Molloy with baby Mark

On the issue of HSE audits into services, Mrs Molloy – who, the High Court found in 2014, had not received a full and frank account of what caused her son’s death, said: ‘In the number of baby deaths in Portlaoise Hospital, there had been no audit done on the reading of a CTG trace reading ever, in Portlaoise Hospital despite the fact that that was a common denominator in all our babies deaths.

‘I would ask, how many other audits are done around the country in terms of misdiagnose, breached deliveries

‘Is that something they are doing in other hospitals or is this a new thing, that it’s something they have to look at.

‘I think they need to be asked the question, if they are basing their standards on rates in other hospitals, they need to show us their research – not to show that it has been done.

Screen grab of two of Roisin and Mark Molloy's four sons. as featured on RTE.com Prime Time programme.
Two of Roisin and Mark Molloy’s four sons.

‘You have to ask, why does it take so many incidents to happen for them to say, OK, we are going to make improvements.’

And Mrs Molloy – who is campaigning for more openness and transparency in the reporting of medical errors – warned: ‘Each mother and father going in to have a baby in hospital need to ask the most basic questions.

‘And if they are not happy with something, they need to have the confidence to say they are not happy.

‘We have fantastic staff (in the maternity services), and then we have staff that aren’t so fantastic.

She said she is dealing with a number of families affected by maternity service-related incidents.

Of these, she said: ‘The common thing among the families is that they have been excluded from any investigation process, have never been told what happened.

‘It’s like the doors are shut on you.

‘And when you ask a question, you are not given answers.

‘There is no open disclosure, there is no one telling you exactly what happened.

‘You are the one who has to make the effort.

‘The HSE are telling families their baby shouldn’t have died but they are leaving it at that.

‘There is no follow-up care at all.

‘People are just being left devastated on top of the loss of their babies or injury to their babies or injury to themselves with no support.’

Picture of Portlaoise Hospital.
Portlaoise Hospital.

And she added: ‘I can find very little evidence that there is anybody listening or that there is evidence that there is change.

‘I think the evidence of change is in terms of the public’s perception of maternity services.’

A transcript of Mrs Molloy’s interview was emailed to the HSE yesterday evening but a spokesperson was unavailable.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We would not normally comment on individual cases.

‘However, this is clearly a matter for the HSE.’

Have you been affected by issues raised in the article above and would like attention drawn to them? Email randomirish @ icloud.com

1500 ‘denied’ treatment at Mater – claim

AS MANY as 1,500 patients have either been denied treatment or had appointments to see consultants postponed at The Mater in an attempt to slash waiting list figures and meet James Reilly’s rigid targets.

Patients – some of whom have been waiting more than a year – have been told they are no longer either eligible for treatment at the Mater because they live in the wrong ‘catchment area’ .

They now face going to the bottom of waiting lists at other hospitals, even though some have conditions as serious as skin cancer, or waiting even longer for care at the Mater – despite consultants having already decided they should be seen at certain dates.

The decision to reject would-be patients from the Dublin hospital or postpone care for others was taken by admin staff.

Astonishingly, the medical consultants were not involved.

The surgeons, who learned of the changes only last week, lay much of the blame on the Health Minister’s waiting list hit squad, the Special Delivery Unit – and on the decision to fine hospitals €25,000 per patient per month if they do not meet waiting list targets.

Dr Helen O’Neill, the GP who brought the scandal to light, said last night: ‘I am very angry that my patients – many of whom have been waiting for more than a year – now have to join the end of a waiting list somewhere else.

‘This is outrageous, as is the fact that the letters cancelling their treatment came from a manager, not a doctor.

‘How dare they do this. How dare they.’

The Mater last night admitted people had been removed from the list but insisted: ‘No patients have been adversely affected.’

However, Dr O’Neill, who exposed the practice in a letter to the Irish Times last Tuesday, said last night: ‘They say that no patient will be affected, but patients have already been affected.

Because of this review, they have had their appointments cancelled and their care has been compromised.’

In one department alone, more than 150 patients’ appointments were cancelled.

A senior clinical source at the hospital said the number of patients affected is ‘definitely hundreds, possibly thousands’.

Speaking on condition they not be named, they added: ‘For patients in need of a whole range of operations, this could have devastating consequences. We are talking about people right across the entire spectrum of care – including abdominal and vascular surgery, or operations on their skin cancer.

‘People’s lives and health are being seriously put at risk. It is an utter disgrace.’

Admin staff  have also changed waiting list categories for patients who are in the Mater’s catchment area and have already been seen by a consultant.

Within the past few weeks, waiting list definitions were changed from ‘Routine’, ‘Soon’, ‘Very Soon’ and ‘Urgent’ to ‘Urgent’, ‘Routine’ and ‘Planned’.

Under the original system, ‘Urgent’ meant a patient needed care within a matter of days or weeks, ‘Very Soon’ was about one to two months, ‘Soon’ was about three to four months and ‘Routine’ was anything between nine months and more than a year.

In cutting the number of categories from four to three, the new system has left many patients facing a longer wait.

Timescales for treatment that had been agreed with consultants are being changed by admin staff – not clinicians. Astonishingly, many of the surgeons had no idea about the changes until they read Dr O’Neill’s letter.

She said that, while the Mater had accepted letters of referral she had written to consultants more than a year ago, admin staff had now decided they could no longer be seen there. This was, they told her, because the patients did not fall under the hospital’s catchment area.

While about 20 patients were affected in her shared practice in Dunboyne, Co. Meath, she said that other GPs in her area had also suddenly started receiving cancellation letters.

The consultants’ group at the Mater has demanded an inquiry. In a series of angry emails among the group, the policy was roundly criticised and the manner in which it is being implemented. And they lay much of the blame on the Special Delivery Unit.

Hospitals face fines or a bill for patients’ treatment elsewhere if they are left waiting for more than a year.

That limit will be reduced to nine months in September.

Paul Connell, the Mater’s head of ophthalmology, wrote on Thursday to the hospital’s deputy operations manager Suzanne Roy demanding an explanation.

He said that if the changes had not been spotted they would have led to ‘multiple critical incidents on the basis of clinical decision-making being taken out of the hands of practising clinicians’.

‘It is evident that the consultant bodies are opposed to this but that it was proceeded with nonetheless,’ he added.

‘It is even more startling that this opposition was voiced but completely ignored.’

Dr O’Neill said last night: ‘You have to wonder just how much more of this is going on not just in the Mater but elsewhere in the country.’

In a statement last night, the Mater said it is meeting its waiting list targets and is not facing fines.

It added: ‘Potential changes to the Mater Hospital’s waiting list classification model have recently been under discussion. As adequate consultation with stakeholders at the hospital has not yet been concluded.

The hospital management has reinstated the original system pending the outcomes of the comprehensive consultation process.’

It said it does not have the resources to continue to take patients from outside its catchment area.

In a statement that reveals how much pressure it is under, the hospital said: ‘Last year the Mater’s outpatient referral numbers was 220,000 up from 160,000 four years ago. The hospital’s budget has dropped from €250million to €196million over the same period.

It said it had to review its ‘access policy’ for outpatient referals, but said no patients who were on the waiting list before the review would be affected.

However, Dr O’Neill said: ‘Until each one of my patients who have had their appointments to see a consultant cancelled receive an apology and are readmitted into the system, this statement is not worth the paper it is printed on.

I just cannot accept this statement, which has all the hallmarks of the typical language I have come to expect from the HSE.’

A leading consultant at the Mater said the statement was just ‘pure PR spin’ and added: ‘The truly shocking thing in all this is the fact that non-clinical staff are deciding who does or doesn’t get clinical care in the hospital.

That is a very, very worrying development.’

One Mater consultant told colleagues in an email: ‘There is undoubtedly a culture emerging here of administrative people “meddling” in clinical management which needs to be strongly opposed.

‘My own waiting list has also been interfered with without my knowledge or consent by someone who is neither competent nor qualified to do so.

‘The damage done to our relationship with our patients, GPs and to our own reputations is irretrievably damaged.

‘Naturally we are very upset and are also trying to deal with this through official channels.’

The writer also blasted management for ‘lack of consultation with senior clinicians prior to making willy-nilly changes which have huge implications for patient care and our and the hospital’s reputation with a view to I don’t know what… perhaps hoping to save money?

‘It does not bear any resemblance to the Mater culture which essentially puts our patients first.’

‘There have been several recent incidents where we have belatedly learnt about changes that have been already made which pose risks to patients and expose ourselves to potential medicolegal risk.’

‘I was consulted regarding this centralised waiting list booking idea and I told her it was a bad idea and that I was opposed to it.

‘My opinion, having been sought, was then ignored as it clearly didn’t suit.’

Catholic dioceses child practices review to take five years

THE ONGOING review into the Catholic Church’s safeguarding practices could take another five years.

Given the amount of work needed to review child protection practices at all the country’s dioceses, the review is ‘unlikely’ to be completed before 2016.

On Wednesday, when the first set of reviews were published, the National Board of Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church boss Ian Elliott said it would take ‘at least two years’.

But it emerged last night that many of those facing review do not even know when their review is set to start.

Others are simply refusing to say publicly whether or not a review of their child protection policies and practices was either under way or has a date set for when it is due to start.

So far just five dioceses – Ardagh, Dromore, Kilmore, Derry and Raphoe, and the Tuam Archdiocese – have had their reviews completed.

Those reports, which were all critical of the way allegations of abuse had been handled in the past but complimentary of how they are handled now, were published on Tuesday.

They revealed that 164 abuse allegations had been lodged with Gardaí in the past 36 years against 85 priests, but that there were just eight convictions.

But the next round of reports will not be published until next May or June at the earliest, and they will only focus on four dioceses and two congregations.

One diocese to be reviewed is Limerick, where 23 priests have had abuse allegations made against them since 1940, but none have been convicted.

Until 2009, Limerick shared a case management committee with the Diocese of Cloyne.

The committee was heavily criticised in the Cloyne Report for putting the interests of abusers above those of their victims.

Last night, a spokesman for the Limerick diocese said: ‘We can confirm that the Limerick diocese wrote to the NBSCCC in November and requested that it be the next diocese audited by them. We expect this to take place in the Spring.’

Of the 17 dioceses contacted yesterday and asked a range of questions about their priests and the current state of any

NBSCCC review, just two – Down & Connor and Limerick – answered them.

It also emerged last night that the report into Tuam contained a significant error.

In the audit, both the HSE and the gardaí were accused of a series of failures in how they had historically handled allegations of clerical abuse.

But it also made a categorical statement about the current handling of allegation.

It stated: ‘It is often the case that once an allegation is forwarded to (civil authorities), there is a significant delay in establishing if a crime has been committed and if there is any risk to children.’

However, each ‘is’ in the statement should have read ‘was’.

Last night a spokesman for the NBSCCC admitted: ‘This should have referred to matters in a historical sense. It is a mistake.’

A spokeswoman for Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said last night: ‘We are so far only looking at a very small part of the bigger picture here and the Minister wants to see all the information.

‘She is particularly interested in the outcome of the ongoing HSE audit.’

The release of that report is due in the coming weeks.

And the minister has said she is waiting on the report’s publication before making her mind up about whether or not to hold a full statutory inquiry into clerical abuse.

Right of Place charity launches appeal with a difference

A SUPPORT group for victims of clerical abuse that has received more than €3million from the taxpayer has admitted it has no idea where all the cash has gone.

The charity is now in the extraordinary position of asking anyone who has ever made a donation or received its help to get in touch so it can work out exactly how much money has gone missing.

The bizarre move comes after the HSE stepped in to appoint a temporary administrator to run Right of Place/Second Chance, which is carrying out a full investigation of its finances.

Tom Wall, a director of the Cork-based charity, said last night: ‘As bad as it sounds, we simply do not know exactly how much money the charity has received. And, more worryingly, we don’t know what it has done with the money.

‘I would urge anybody to get in touch with us and let us know how much money they gave us and when.’

He added: ‘There is a feeling at the charity that in the past it has not always acted in the best interests of its members and that is very regrettable.’

Tom Cronin, a survivor of institutional abuse at Presentation Brothers’ Greenmount Industrial School in Cork who helped set up the group in 1999, welcomed the internal audit, which he has been demanding since 2006.

He said last night: ‘Just who actually benefited from this charity is still something of a mystery. That is an outrageous situation and it has gone on for far too long.

‘I am delighted that the board are taking such a bold and innovative step as part of their determination to restructure the charity. I think it’s now just a matter of time before the gardaí are called in.’

Mr Cronin, who resigned from the board of directors in 2001, accused the Government of handing over vast amounts of Exchequer money for more than 10 years without bothering to find out where it was going.

‘The various departments who have given money to this charity have, in my opinion, being a bit relaxed when it comes to checks and balances,’ he said.

The Irish Daily Mail has learned that between 2001 and 2008 the Department of Education gave a total of €980,080 to Right of Place, which claims to represent 1,500 people.

A further €677,000 was received from the Department of Health between 2002 and 2005. Between 2006 and 2010, the HSE – which took over funding for the charity from the Department of Health – gave €1,498,723.

On top of the €3.1million in direct government funding, the charity also received €50,000 Lotto funding in 2003.

Controversially, it also accepted money from some of the very religious orders that ran institutions accused of abusing the people it claims to help.

The exact amount the various organisations gave is not publicly known but it is estimated at €300,000.

The Sisters of Mercy in Cork were involved in sourcing at least €20,000 for the charity but by last year they were demanding to know how the money was actually being spent.

In 2009, Sister Maria McGuinness from St Columba’s Convent in Cork wrote to the charity saying: ‘I would be grateful to receive the detailed breakdown of how the grant of €20,000 was spent.’

Other orders include Brothers of Charity, which gave €5,000 in 2000, the Sisters of Charity, which gave €10,000 in 2006, and the Congregation of the Brothers of Charity. The Galway-based charity donated €6,350 in 2002.

The Rosminians Institute of Charity in Drumcondra, Dublin, donated €5,000 the previous year.

The HSE last night denied ignoring how Right of Place administered taxpayers’ money.

A spokesman said: ‘During the period December 2009 to date, the HSE has worked with the organisation to bring about structure and good governance.

‘In May 2010 all parties signed an agreement which created a pathway to move forward. It provided a mechanism to democratically elect a new board of directors representative of the local committees of the organisation.’

 She said the HSE would not be able to give details about its funding plans for Right of Place next year until the Budget has been announced.

Mr Wall said: ‘We are currently going through a major restructuring process. A major part of that is a detailed look at the charity’s finances.’

UCC student Neil Fleming pal tried to save his life after River Lee fall

Parliament Bridge, Cork.

A POPULAR student drowned after falling into a river when he lost his balance on a wall.

The third year University College Cork business studies student was with a friend and due to attend a UCC departmental ball near the city later that night.

The two pals were on their way to get a lift out to the annual Commerce Ball at Rochestown Park Hotel, Rochestown when Neil Fleming stopped by a wall.

But the 19-year-old is said to have slipped off it at Wandesford Quay near The River Lee Hotel just after 9pm and plunged into the water below him.

Almost immediately, he was dragged under the water by the current.

It was so strong that his friend – who wanted to jump in to save him – is believed to have had to be held back in case they ended up being dragged under as well.

Instead a lifebuoy was thrust over to him as he reappeared very briefly but the current got the better of him again and he was swept away.

Gardai who were carrying out a check point nearby also tried to help after they saw Neil enter the river.

It would be another 20 minutes before his body was finally found at Parliament Bridge, where two Cork City Fire Brigade officers rescued Neil’s body and brought him onto a bank.

Together with a HSE ambulance crew, they frantically tried to revive him for more than two hours but were unable to.

Neil’s body was brought out a few yards from The Sober Lane pub, which is a regular for students.

A member of staff said last night: ‘He was pulled out just across form us. It’s very sad.’

The news has shocked the student community in the city, which is still coming to terms with the death earlier this year of another student.

In February, 21-year-old Adam Buggy was killed when he was struck at around midnight by two cars as he crossed the South Ring Road in Douglas, Cork.

The third-year UCC Arts student had been attending the UCC Arts Ball with 600 other students at the Rochestown Park Hotel.

Messages of condolence started appearing on Neil’s Facebook site about 3am yesterday morning as news of his tragic death started filtering through to the student community.

And by about 5pm last night, more than 140 messages had been left by well-wishers on the site – where he had some 575 friends.

One friend wrote: ‘Can’t believe it man . . . sickened . . . gona miss you big time Flemdog’.

Another simply said: ‘Such a huge loss’ while another read: ‘I’m going to miss you lad. It will never be the same without you’.

A fellow UCC student at the Sober Lane pub said last night: ‘I didn’t know Neil personally but one of my friends does and he says he was just a lovely guy.

‘He was one of those people who were very bright but also a great laugh.

‘He was always one for a bit of a joke and what happened was just one of those freak accidents.

‘Neil appears to have gone up on a wall and just misjudged the width and slipped in.

‘It’s a terrible thing. People who knew him are just shocked. Really shocked, as you can imagine.’

Last night, UCC Students’ Union deputy president Daithi Linnane said: ‘UCC Students’ Union are deeply saddened at the passing of a friend and classmate of so many of our students.

‘The thoughts and sympathy of UCC students are with the family and friends of the deceased at this difficult time.

‘Support is available from UCC’s Counselling and Development Office and from the UCC Chaplaincy Service and the Welfare Officer who can be reached at welfare@uccsu.ie.

A Garda spokesman said last night: ‘What happened was a total accident  and very sad altogether.

‘Apparently he was sitting on a wall and just fell backwards.

‘There was a very strong current that night and he was swept under very quickly.’

They added: ‘We would urge people to be very careful, particularly at this time of the year when rivers all over Ireland swell up.’

Originally from Gneeveguilla, just outside Rathmore, Co Kerry, he had attended Tureencahill National School followed by Rathmore Secondary School.

A former neighbour of the Scholarship student said last night: ‘He was a very, very bright guy.

‘He was expected to do very well with himself and his family had good reason to have high hopes for him.

‘They were always especially proud that he had won a scholarship to UCC.’

Neil is survived by father – plant hire boss Michael – mother Susan and 11-year-old brother Michael and 18-year-old sister Joanne.

They were last night being comforted by friends and family.

Parish priest Fr Larry Kelly, who visited the family yesterday afternoon, said last night: ‘Neil’s whole family are utterly devastated.

‘They are in a state of shock. Their whole world has been turned upside down by this.’

He said Neil, whose body arrived back at the family home just after 8pm last night before a 9pm rosary service, was a ‘very helpful sort of boy’.

He added: ‘There was never any bother on him.’

Neil’s removal will be at 8.15pm this evening and his funeral will be held the following day at 12.30 at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Gneeveguilla.

Life-saving bowel screening scheme scrapped.

A CANCER screening programme that has saved 50 lives is to be shut down.

The scheme, which screens for bowel cancer, is the only one of its kind in the country and will not be replaced until 2012, when a national programme is due to start.

In the meantime, the team running it. led by gastroenterologist Professor Colm O’Morain, will be disbanded in June.

As a result, thousands of people who could be screened in the two years between then and the rollout of the national programme some time in 2012 will now be missed.

The delay could mean more cases like the tragic death in 2007 of Susie Long, who died of a cancer that would have been diagnosed had she not been forced to wait seven months for a colonoscopy.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said: ‘This is typical of the HSE’s insistence on slashing services before there is an equivalent to replace them.’

A spokesman for Tallaght Hospital, where the screening unit is currently based, said: ‘We don’t have the resources to fund it.’

Kathleen O’Meara, Irish Cancer Society head of advocacy and communications, said: ‘The Tallaght pilot project proved its worth in terms of lives saved. It proved the case for a national programme.

‘It would be better if Prof. O’Morain could continue because his work has been extremely useful.’

The Tallaght project was set up in 2008 by Prof. O’Morain, head of health sciences at Trinity, after two years of planning and research.

Based at Tallaght Hospital, the programme worked around the delivery of test kits sent to 10,000 50 to 74-year-olds living locally.

The people’s names were taken from GPs’ patient lists and participants were asked to send back two stool samples in containers provided.

Samples were tested for the presence of blood and those who showed positive were invited to a Saturday clinic for colonoscopy.

It was during those tests that 50 cancer cases were diagnosed. Many more pre-cancerous growths were also found and treated.

In 2008, Health Minister Mary Harney told the HSE to cut public waiting times for colonoscopies to four weeks. This followed national outcry in 2007 at the case of Susie Long, who revealed on radio that she had faced a seven-month wait.

In spring 2009, reports to the minister by the Health Information and Quality Authority and the National Cancer Screening Service recommended a national programme. The NCSS said such a scheme would be the ‘single most important public health intervention ever in the Irish health service’.

An average of 2040 new cases of colorectal – or bowel – cancer were diagnosed each year between 2002 and 2005, with an average of 925 deaths occurring in each year.

Colorectal cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in men and women in Ireland.

We have the highest colorectal cancer mortality rate for men in western Europe. By 2020, it is estimated that new cases diagnosed here will have increased by 79pc in men and 56pc in women.

Dr Reilly said: ‘Why close down a perfectly good service that is saving lives on the promise of another service that is years away?

‘Despite concerns about the initial age range proposed in the national programme, I welcomed it as an important development.

‘Only in the loony world of Mary Harney and the HSE would the announcement of one life-saving measure mean another gets shut down.’

Unlike Prof. O’Morain’s project, the national scheme will be restricted to those aged 60-69, the highest-risk group. No date has been set for expansion.

Prof. O’Morain said: ‘I’d like to see funding extended – any test should be repeated after two years. A national programme is long overdue and it is great that one is on the way.

‘But it would be better if the age range were wider as the point is to catch people as soon as possible.’