Enda Kenny, T.D.
Department of the Taoiseach
Upper Merrion Street
Open Letter: “This Broken Health System”
01 March 2014
A Thaoisigh, a chara,
we are the parents of Pádraig Schäler. He is 23 years old and had just finished his studies in TCD when he went to the US on a J1 visa. On 27 June 2013, when cycling to work at 10am in the morning on a narrow country road on Cape Cod, MA, USA, he was hit by a van and left in a coma. He was brought to Cape Cod Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. Two and a half weeks later we brought him back to Dublin in an air ambulance.
Four months later, when we discovered that the waiting time to access adequate care and treatment in one of the three beds for patients in his condition in the country’s only rehabilitation hospital, the NRH, would be close to a year, and then only for a maximum period of three months, we decided to bring him to Germany where he could access adequate care immediately. Our decision to bring Pádraig to Germany was forced upon us, we did not do this by choice. We were just too devastated by the thought that he would have to spend months on end in an acute care facility in Beaumont where we saw young patients in his condition acquire injuries, become infected with multi-resistant bacteria, and being denied adequate care.
None of the above will come as a surprise to you, given that Minister O’Reilly yesterday, at your party’s ardfheis, described Ireland’s health system, for which you, he, and your Government are responsible, as “this broken health system“.
In your own address to the ardfheis, you said that you were looking forward to the publication of the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance (UHI), which will outline how you will “tear down the barriers“ to access. “So for a change, when implemented, a new health service will be ready and waiting if you and your family need it.”
As the parents of a child in a coma, or to be more precise a minimally conscious state, we can tell you that “this broken health system” has not just failed our son but has also torn apart our family. It forced Pádraig out of the country he loves more than any other, away from his friends, and the language and culture he so deeply cherishes. Under your Government, The National Policy and Strategy for the Provision of Neuro-Rehabilitation Services in Ireland 2011-2015 was published. It is devoid of vision and makes disappointing reading. Despite decades of non-investment, the plan is to engage only in ‘cost-neutral’ changes over a four-year period.
The appalling lack of adequate neuro-rehabilitation care in Ireland, which has been described as “unethical” and “grotesque” by experts in the field, is well known. Over the last fifteen years, Professor Orla Hardiman, Dr Aine Carroll, and the Neurological Alliance of Ireland have highlighted long waiting lists and the fact that there are only seven rehabilitation consultants when we need 26. Experts agree that treatment should be timely and individualised but for hundreds or perhaps thousands – there are no statistics – of patients it is non-existent.
There is no indication, none whatsoever, that your current plan, the awaited white paper on the UHI, or the National Policy paper on neuro-rehabilitation, is going to do anything to fix “this broken health system” for some of the most vulnerable young people of the nation, critically ill young people to whom you have a duty of care. It is impossible to believe your statement that a “new health service will be ready and waiting if you and your family need it“. Not for Pádraig and not for the many patients like him. (We have documented some of these cases on a website.)
The Convention on the Constitution reported on 23 February 2014 that it has voted during its ninth and final meeting to afford greater constitutional protection to Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) rights, including the right to Essential Health Care.
How can you, personally and as our Taoiseach – and, indeed, as a parent yourself -, how can your Health Minister, how can your Government, allow a situation to continue, where some of the most vulnerable young people of the Nation are denied their essential rights to receive appropriate health care?
How can you allow a situation continue, where deeply traumatized parents, families, and friends have to go out and try to fundraise in an attempt to pay for essential treatment that is being denied to them by “this broken health system” your Government presides over?
When will you be putting in place badly needed neuro-rehabilitation services for our sons and daughters?
Muidne le meas,
Patricia O’Byrne and Reinhard Schäler
78 Iona Road
Mobile telephone: 087-6736414