Press Release

Review of work undertaken by a locum consultant pathologist in Tralee, Sligo and Letterkenny General Hospitals

The Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin, TD has today (13 June 2000) outlined his Department’s response to reports about the work of a retired pathologist who has been engaged, at various times, to provide locum consultant cover for holiday periods by the Southern and North Western Health Boards and whose work has been subject to review in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The Minister, said “I am satisfied that appropriate action was taken by the relevant health boards to deal with this matter immediately it came light last Autumn. Patients’ care has been the primary focus in all action taken with regard to this case. Instances where the treatment and diagnoses of a patient’s condition involved the work of the pathologist, in question, have been identified and selected for review. This has resulted, to date, in a small number of cases where changes in the prescribed treatment of specific conditions were required. The patients concerned have been contacted by their clinician.”

The Minister pointed out that his Department has closely monitored the situation since receiving notification of the matter. The Department emphasised to the health boards concerned the need to ensure that the duty of care to the patient was fully discharged in all cases and it supported the health boards in their reviews of the locum consultant pathologist’s work.

The Department requested the Southern and North Western Health Boards, Comhairle na n-Ospideal and the Health Service Employers Agency to examine the arrangements for engaging locum consultants so that this type of situation is avoided in future. The Department has also maintained contact with the UK Authorities throughout, and continues to liaise and exchange information with them.

The circumstances of the review of work undertaken by the locum consultant pathologist in Ireland has been raised with the Medical Council, which has statutory responsibility in relation to the conduct of medical doctors, directly by the health boards concerned.

The Minister stated that “My Department is also establishing a Working Group which will consider existing recruitment procedures for locum consultants. It will have the task of making recommendations on necessary improvements, or otherwise, to these procedures. The aim is to ensure that the highest standards are in place for the employment of locum consultants. I must stress that these procedures need to be robust and easily monitored for compliance.”

This Working Group is a separate initiative from the review of the Medical Practitioners’ Act (1978) which is already underway. Proposals that re-certification and re-accreditation for doctors occur on regular basis throughout their careers, as a competency assurance measure, have arisen for discussion in that context. The outcome the Working Group’s considerations will assist, inform and contribute further to the debate. The vast majority of doctors do an excellent job, but I am determined to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to ensure the competency of all doctors. I will ensure that the review of the Medical Practitioners Act now under way will tackle this important issue the Minister stated.

Commenting on the review of work undertaken by a locum consultant pathologist in Tralee, Sligo and Letterkenny General Hospitals, the Minister emphasised that the interests of the patients must remain paramount. A primary focus on the interests of patients is evidenced by the action already taken by the Southern and North Western Health Boards to review the work of the locum consultant pathologist in question. Arrangements have been put in place by the health boards to respond to any patient concerns arising from this case. I will also be examining the lessons of this case to identify any further action that is required to ensure, as far as is possible, that such situations do not arise in future the Minister concluded.