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.’

Rachel O’Reilly sister Ann Callaly laid to rest

RACHEL O’Reilly’s mother, Rose Callaly, said a touching farewell to her remaining daughter and ‘constant companion’ Ann yesterday.

The 31-year-old had refused to give up her fight against cancer but after two years, she died on Friday.

Parents Jim and Rose Callaly summoned up all their courage yesterday to pay tribute to their daughter at the Holy Child Church in Whitehall, on Dublin’s northside.

Addressing friends and family from the altar, Mrs Callaly said: ‘I just do not know what I am going to do.

‘She was the organiser in the family and it’s going to be very hard to carry on without her. Our home will never be the same again without her.

‘Ann’s been my constant companion for the past two and half years and I am numb with the thought of her not being here.’

Fr Michael Carey told mourners that the 31-year-old was ‘living in eternity’ after being reunited with her sister, Rachel, who was murdered by Joe O’Reilly in 2004.

Mr and Mrs Callaly were joined at the funeral by sons Paul, Declan and Tony, who helped carry their sister’s coffin into the church. As Miss Callaly’s coffin was led to the altar before 2,500 mourners, a guitarist played a lament on an electric blues guitar.

The hour-long service began at 10am with members of the family placing keepsakes around the coffin. Among them was a photograph of a beaming Ann, which was taken last year when she celebrated the end of her cancer treatment.

Mrs Callaly placed a Bible on the coffin beside a large bouquet of flowers. As she knelt down to bow before the altar on the way back to her seat, her stoic composure slipped and she appeared to stumble. Husband Jim rushed to her side as did one of her sons.

They paused for a while and Mrs Callaly, her head bowed and her face contorted with emotion, was led back to her seat. Then Paul brought over Ann’s teddy bear, something Fr Carey said ‘she loved and cherished very much’.

Her brother Tony then followed with Ann’s badminton racket. This was, Fr Carey said, ‘a symbol of one of her numerous sporting interests where she made many friends’.

The priest said that the family’s hearts had been broken yet again. He continued: ‘Our hearts go out to Rose, Jim, Tony, Declan, Paul, her nieces and nephews, her extended family and her good and close friends and her neighbours.’ Ann would now be in ‘the loving embrace of the Lord’.

While ‘her torment is over and she is at peace’, Fr Carey said her death was ‘a shattering experience’ that her family, friends and loved ones would never forget. Ann had ‘fought the true fight to the end’.

Fr Carey explained: ‘She prayed in this church, asking God to cure her and make sense of her suffering. I don’t know if those questions were ever answered.’ Prayers for the faithful were read by Ann’s friends.

One fought back tears as she read: ‘We remember especially Ann’s sister, Rachel, whom she loved and is also dearly missed. Grant them an everlasting home with your son.’

Thanks went to the staff of Dublin’s Mater Hospital and the St Francis Hospice, in Raheny, where Ann spent time before she died.

Before the service ended, Rose Callaly took to the altar where she spoke fondly of her daughter’s loyalty and her love of life, adding that ‘never for one minute’ did Ann give up her fight against cancer.

Mrs Callaly said: ‘It is very hard for us to know that she will never be with us again.’ The mother of five was still struggling to understand why her daughter ‘had to suffer so much and be taken so young’.

She said: ‘We will miss her so very much, our very special girl, who brought so much happiness. Ann, my darling, thank you so much.’

When Mrs Callaly finished her emotionally charged tribute, mourners in the packed church rose to their feet and applauded as she made her way back to her seat.

Guitarist Breda Hammond, who had been playing softly throughout the tribute, carried on while the church fell otherwise silent.

During the Prayers of Commendation, the grief-stricken mother stared over at her daughter’s coffin, her eyes ringed with tears.

Moments later, Fr Carey led the mourners out of the church. They then travelled to Fingal Cemetery where prayers were said at Ann’s graveside, led by Fr Carey.

All the while, Rose stood staring down at the coffin, with husband Jim by her side, almost bent double at times with grief. After burying her second daughter, Rose thrust a single red rose on top of the coffin.

The Callalys then went to Clontarf Castle for a reception where they were joined by family, friends and well-wishers.

Fake ‘doctor’ and ‘Dangerous fantasist’ Michael Ward jailed for reckless endangerment and assault

Do you know (Robert) Michael Ward? Do you want to tell your story anonymously? Contact Random Irish News in the strictest of  confidence.

Michael Ward
Michael Ward

A WOMAN is facing death from bladder cancer because her ex-fiancé told her he was a doctor who could cure her.

Michael Ward was jailed for five years yesterday after the court heard chilling details of how he ‘operated’ on his victim twice – in her own living room.

The ‘pathological liar and a dangerous fantasist’ had masqueraded as a high-flying medic – but he had no medical qualifications. His former fiancée remained undiagnosed for up to ten weeks because of his lies. Her potentially fatal tumour was finally discovered a week after he operated on her.

And the woman told how she believes Ward had allowed the court case to drag on because he thought she would be too ill – or even dead – by the time the trial came around. The gravely ill woman – who has not had a relationship since her ordeal – said she fought the case to stop 32-year-old Ward, from Co. Cork, from wrecking another life.

She said: ‘The only reason I have come this far and endured another three years of constant reminders is the thought that I could stop something like this happening to another woman.’

Last week, Ward pleaded guilty on day four of his trial to recklessly endangering her by masquerading as a doctor and purporting to treat her between August and October 2006.

He also pleaded guilty to assaulting her causing her harm.

When the pair met in June 2006, the respectable-looking man, with an address at Grove Road in Little Island, claimed to work as a doctor at the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

It later emerged that he was not medically qualified in any way and had even given her a fake name.

Detective Garda Kevin Keys yesterday told the Central Criminal Court that Ward and the woman had ‘a brief intense relationship’ in 2006.

But she knew him as Michael O’Brien, a paediatrician and medical doctor at Dublin’s Mater Hospital. He was actually a secondyear law student at the time.

He said the woman had been getting medical treatment for an undiagnosed condition and in August 2006 she told Ward’s about her problem.

He told her that her own doctors ‘did not have a clue’ and he ‘undertook the clinical management of her condition’.

He took daily urine samples, which he claimed were analysed by a lady called ‘Maria’ in the laboratories in the Mater Hospital, and then told her that a fictitious doctor – ‘Dr Harper’ – had diagnosed her as having an abscess on her bladder .

Ward prescribed antibiotics and specially prepared compounds before – on two days in October – he made her lie down on an air mattress for three hours, when he claimed he had inserted a ‘hypodermic syringe’ to both anaesthetise her and drain the abscess.

He had inserted a ‘plastic type object’ and left it there for several hours.

The object eventually ‘popped out’ and when the victim saw it, she thought i t looked like a syringe from a teeth whitening set.

He then ‘reinserted a new syringe’, the court heard . Detective Garda Keys said that during that two-day period Ward presented the woman with gifts of lingerie and a pair of boots which she later discovered had been bought with her own Laser card.

She confronted him about the unauthorised payments but he denied all knowledge. She went to the Mater Hospital a few days later to ask for Ward but discovered that he never worked there. Staff at the hospital made a complaint to the gardaí – and the woman was immediately referred to accident and emergency.

Her consulting doctor at the time prepared a report for the sen-tenchearing, in which he stated that he had no doubt that ‘by delaying appropriate medical treatment’ Ward had caused the woman serious harm.

He said the tumour was allowed to grow unchecked when it could have been treated.

His deceit was uncovered in mid-October, 2006, a week after the couple got engaged.

The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was later diagnosed with a life-threatening and rare form of cancer which had gone untreated for eight to ten weeks after Ward ‘undertook the clinical management of her condition’.

The victim had the tumour removed on November 11, 2006, three weeks after she discovered that Ward had lied to her.

She remains gravely ill. The court heard Ward also deceived her about the death of his father – who is alive and works as a laboratory technician – as they were about to go on a mini-break to Rome after their engagement. And he also cancelled a trip to the U. S. at the last minute for ‘an emergency surgery’.

Ward was arrested in February 2007 and he told gardaí that the allegations were ‘frivolous’. He added ‘I have no comment’.

Detective Garda Keys read from a victim impact statement, that the woman felt Ward had deliberately used ‘stalling tactics’ throughout the case because she believed he wanted her to be either ‘too sick or no longer a l i v e to t e s t i f y i n the case’.

She said there was a strong possibility that she would not have been alive to see the case to completion – but she endured it because she thought by doing so she could prevent this from happening to ‘some-one’s daughter or sister’. The woman said she had been encouraged by both family and friends to concentrate on her recovery rather than the case – but she felt she had to pursue it.

She said that Ward showed no remorse and allowed her to take the stand ‘knowing as he did the truth of everything’, and knowing how ill she was. She said that after three years and four days into the trial he eventually pleaded guilty.

Detective Garda Keys said the woman described how she was too ‘consumed and devastated’ by the way Ward had deceived and manipulate her to have the strength to deal with her illness when she was first diagnosed.  She said his actions ‘still take a toll on me’.

The garda said that she described Ward’s actions as a ‘brutal deceit’ that has resulted in her ‘losing my belief in the inherent goodness in people’ – but she hoped in time that she ‘could regain the trust I used to have’.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton described the case ‘as deeply sad’ and jailed Ward, of Little Island, Co. Cork, for six years – but he suspended the final year of the sentence on the condition that Ward keep the peace and be of good behaviour.

The judge said: ‘He was able to charm her into a relationship which was of no benefit to her.’

He added that the woman’s illness had been confusing for a long time and people in such situations would search around for help.

He did not accept that Ward had been in love with the woman . He told the court: ‘You do not deal with love through manipulation – but rather with the truth, and that is the basis for any really stable relationship.’

He added that he could not ignore the fact that by treating her with this ‘ridiculous scheme’ Ward knew he was limiting her chances of recovering from whatever illness she may have had.

He said that Ward had ‘presented himself as a high-flying doctor’ and the woman had put her trust in him which was ‘badly betrayed’.

‘I am not impressed that he pleaded not guilty, leaving her in a position to give evidence in what he knew to be the truth when she was gravely ill.’

He commended the victim on ‘her enormous courage in discussing private matters in a public forum’ and noted that her motivation had been to stop something like this happening to any other woman.

He said that it was hard to think of ‘a worse betrayal and endangering of someone’s life, even considering that it was part of a fantasy for him’.

But Patrick McEntee SC, defending, said it was ‘an extremely sad case’ and he had ‘express instructions from my client to apologise fully for the distress, pain and suffering’ that Ward had caused to the victim.

He asked Mr Justice Charleton to accept that Ward was ‘a seriously conflicted man who has problems with telling the truth and was sucked into a world of fantasy, a fantasy of being a doctor’.

He added that Ward ‘did not know and could not have known that the victim had cancer at the time and that while his interference allowed the disease to take some steps forward, he did not know that was happening.

‘He made an irresponsible decision, one he had no right to make and one that he never should have. He told lies but there was nothing in it for him.

‘There was no suggestion that he got sexual gratification for it. ‘He did a serious thing and he must be punished for it. If only to stop people masquerading as doctors,’ Mr McEntee said.

He then read from a letter from Ward’s mother, in which she described her boy as ‘a model son’ who had always been good to her, her husband, her daughter and grandson.

She said Ward acted as a father-type figure to his nephew, ringing him to check his homework was done and taking him to the cinema at the weekend.

She said the whole family was devastated and it was her worst nightmare that her only son was before the court .

He was a man she described as ‘not a bad person’ and someone who had always been a great source of pride for her.