Baby's four cancelled lung operations expose nursing crisis
Kids airlifted to British hospitals for emergency surgery
BY BRENDAN KERR
THE DAILY TRAUMA endured by families whose children have vital hospital operations cancelled because of a shortage of nurses in the main children's hospital in the 26 Counties has gone virtually unnoticed by the general public and ignored by the Dublin Government. But the issue was thrust into the national media headlines this week when a Sinn Féin councillor highlighted the case of one Dublin family whose two-year-old baby son had crucial surgery to help save his lung cancelled no fewer than FOUR times in SIX days.
THE DISTRAUGHT PARENTS of two-year-old Dillon Smyth, from Tallaght in Dublin, said they were at their ``wits end'' last Saturday. Lisa Smyth and Damien O'Hare were beside themselves with stress and worry when they approached local Sinn Féin Councillor Seán Crowe. They had just been told that their son's lung surgery had been cancelled yet again, for the fourth time in less than a week.
Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, Dublin, said the operation could not go ahead because there were not enough nurses to administer the one-to-one, post-operative care little Dillon would need. The Intensive Care Unit is short of 23 specialist nurses - nearly a quarter of its total staff complement of 105. Four of the unit's 17 beds cannot be used because of staffing levels. Six out of 24 operating theatre nurses' posts are vacant.
Dillon was struck down with pneumonia nine weeks ago. A painful abscess grew on his lung. A consultant told the family if the infected tissue isn't removed, it will affect his health in later years.
But his operation was scheduled four times last week - on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Thursday, a surgeon even came in on his day off, only to have the operation cancelled because of the staff shortage in the Intensive Care Unit.
On every day prior to each planned operation, Dillon had to be fasted for up to 14 hours.
``It's heartbreaking for me to see him crying because he's hungry and I can't give him food,'' Lisa says. ``It's hard not to let a starving child have something to eat. He's screaming for his bottle, we're taking it away from him and then we're giving it back to him when they cancel the operation. The child is starting to look at us if to say, `Why are you doing this to me?'
``He doesn't understand why. He can't.''
Tiny Dillon has lost two pounds because of the constant fasting.
Lisa Smyth is finding the ordeal especially distressful because she is expecting another baby in four weeks' time. ``Dillon was in hospital for six weeks after he got severe pneumonia and developed fluid on the lung that had to be drained.
``Then the doctors told us that the lining of his lung is infected and they have to operate to remove it.
``At the moment, Dillon is growing but his lung isn't. He struggles for breath and he's lost weight.''
Dillon's parents have nothing but praise for the nursing staff, doctors and consultants at Crumlin but that doesn't ease the emotional, physical and financial stress they are suffering because of the inability of the system to deliver an effective health service.
The couple have to pay for taxis and baby-sitters to mind Dillon's twin brother, Jordan, and their two other children, Niall (8) and Jade (5). Lisa's mother has taken time off work to help out. Dillon's father, Damien, is a chef. He has been given time off work. ``I had last week arranged with time off from work and I can't do it this week again,'' Damien explains. ``The job was understanding enough to give me last week off but this is another difficulty.''
But Damien is keen to point out that the problems his family are facing apply to all parents with children in hospital.
When Dillon is in hospital, Damien stays with him overnight. He is charged £6 for every night he stays in the hospital's Parents' Unit, which is a voluntary facility and not supported by the Government. And Damien has to pay to use the facilities there to wash clothes for himself and Dillon. Then there are meals and taxi fares of £8 each way for every trip. This is an added burden on top of the family's regular weekly cost of living.''
But it's is the emotional and physical drain on the family that causes the most anguish. Lisa Smyth says:
``This is every parent's worst nightmare -watching your child's health go downhill before your eyes.
``I'm at my wits' end. I can't take much more at this stage. I just want it over and done with.''
Tiny Dillon Smyth was taken into hospital again last Tuesday. His operation is scheduled to go ahead as An Phoblacht goes to press on Thursday.
Someone to Watch Over Him
EX-UVF PRISONER Bobby Morton should be thankful for his guardian angels, who watched over him as he watched the St Patrick's Day parade in Belfast city centre.
Vigilant republicans attending the event spotted a very merry Bobby really entering into the spirit of the day and noted this demonstration of the cross-community appeal of an occasion shunned by the unionist burghers of Belfast City Council.
Morton was previously interviewed on Peter Taylor's BBC `Loyalists' series.
He was asked about the Loughlinisland killings of six men in a bar as they watched the Irish soccer team on TV.
Bobby told Taylor that he would not call it ``cold-blooded murder''.
``I'd call it retaliation. It sends a message to the IRA that if you kill Protestants someone is going to pay for it. It might be cruel but the end justifies the means.''
Luckily for Morton in his fluid condition, the republicans who caught sight of him put their personal antipathy aside in pursuit of the greater good and the peace process.
Two-tier health service
Sinn Féin Councillor Seån Crowe, who publicised the plight of Dillon Smyth and his family, says this case is symptomatic of a two-tier health service.
``If Dillon's parents had money, they wouldn't have to wait another day for the operation - they could buy their way into a private hospital. There are no multi-thousand-pound whip rounds by big businessmen in a Fianna Fáil Golden Circle for the likes of Dillon Smyth.
``A two-year-old child cannot understand why his parents are starving him practically day after day. And Dillon's mother and father are increasingly frustrated at having to put their child through this without any sign of him getting the treatment he needs and deserves from a public health service.''
Councillor Crowe called for Dillon's operation to go ahead without any further delay and for the public health service to be adequately staffed to provide the services that all patients need.
Crowe says: ``When we are being told day in day out by the government that we're riding high on the back of the Celtic Tiger and we've never had it so good, is there anything more important to people's quality of life than an efficient public health service that looks after health care workers and patients?''