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'If you have a heart attack in Waterford, Wexford or Kilkenny you should be treated the same'

Waterford man Tom Power died in an ambulance en route to Cork University Hospital having suffered a heart attack.

He was a quiet, loyal, gentle person and never had a bad word to say about anyone. If the phone rang and someone needed a hand, he was there no questions asked.

THIS IS HOW Tom Power’s expectant wife described him at his funeral Mass last week.

The 40-year-old farmer from Belle Lake, east Waterford, suffered a heart attack and died in an ambulance while en route to Cork University Hospital.

Why was he being sent to Cork? Because the University Hospital Waterford (UHW) has no catheterisation laboratory (cath lab) and only operates Monday to Friday 9am-5pm.

A cath lab is where cardiac tests and procedures take place.

His tragic death has caused uproar among the public, not just in Waterford, but surrounding areas such as Wexford, Tipperary and Kilkenny.

Protests have been held and thousands have signed a petition calling for round-the-clock cardiac care in Waterford, with the matter also being highlighted in the Dáil.

For two full days, RTÉ’s Joe Duffy show heard countless stories from people conveying their concerns about having to travel so far in an emergency.

Tragic death of Tom Power

Catherine Power, Tom’s sister, told the Liveline programme that it was meant to be straightforward, but just 20 minutes into his journey to Cork, her brother went into cardiac arrest.

The doctor in Cork later told her: “If the cath lab was open [in Waterford] you would have your brother here today.

“We have a cath lab sitting there empty in Waterford… as a family, we said this can’t go on.”

File Photo Thomas Power Dies Source: RollingNews.ie

The issue of the cath lab in Waterford is not new.

During the formation of the current minority government, the Minister of State for Training and Skills, John Halligan, requested that a second cardiac unit be added to University Hospital Waterford, claiming that the facility was severely under-resourced.

He was dubbed by some to be playing parish-pump politics but Halligan denied this, stating that it would save lives in the southeast of the country, not just Waterford.

The government agreed to conduct an independent review, which resulted in cardiologist Dr Niall Herity concluding that University Hospital Waterford did not need a second cath lab.

Review into services 

This review was later criticised after RTÉ’s Prime Time programme revealed details of a HSE briefing note that was prepared for Dr Herity ahead of him carrying out the independent review. It stated that a second cath lab “would be wasteful of very limited resources”.

Since then, it was announced a mobile cath lab would be made available. However, many locals do not believe the offer of a mobile unit over a second permanent cath lab is good enough.

However, despite the announcement being made in May, it took five weeks for the Department of Health to formally instruct the HSE to put it out to tender. It is due to open in September for a period of 20 weeks, with a second review to be carried out thereafter.

Fighting the HSE 

In a rare move, Halligan asked Health Minister Simon Harris questions during Topical Issues Dáil this week (usually just backbenchers and opposition members do this).

“The presence of the mobile cath lab would not have saved the life of Tom Power.  However, there will be more Tom Powers and more lives needlessly lost unless cardiac services in UHW are expand”ed,” he said.

“This will never happen while we, the elected representatives of the region, are fighting against an invisible force within the health service.”

Halligan claimed there was “interference” by the HSE in the first review.

Referring to the briefing note highlighted during the RTÉ Primetime programme, he said it “explicitly stated that the second cath lab was not a priority”.

“It is my belief that the interference has continued.”

File Photo Independent Alliance Minister of State John Halligan has said he does not want to destabilise the Government and remains in it for the time being. Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, he said if the Government does not commit to th Waterford TD John Halligan Source: Leah Farrell

“I believe that Dr Herity was given flawed and biased information prior to commencing his work.”

He also hit out in the Dáil against the HSE, stating the five-week delay was ignoring a direct ministerial order.

For five weeks, the Minister’s express instructions were treated with utter contempt by civil servants.  This is not fair to the Minister.
I believe that the HSE is a law unto itself and that unknown person or persons within the HSE are determined to put every obstacle possible in front of the expansion of the cardiac services in UHW.
I believe there is an agenda playing out that the extension of services at UHW has nothing to do with the clinical need.

Different treatment around the country 

Speaking during Tom’s funeral last week, the Parish priest Fr Liam Power said it was “unjust” that Tom didn’t have the same opportunity for cardiac care that is available in other parts of the country.

The priest said he hoped Tom’s death would not be in vain and that facilities might be put in place to ensure that the people of the southeast have access to a level of cardiac care that is afforded to other citizens around the country.

“The tragic death of Tom Power has brought this all into the forefront again. We don’t know if he would have survived, but we know if he had taken ill on a Friday morning instead of a Sunday he would have got the cath lab intervention at Waterford University Hospital, which is only 10 minutes from his home,” Halligan told TheJournal.ie.

He said he would not accept that it would take an hour-and-a-half to drive to Cork from Waterford

“You will not. Not a chance. It would take you two and a half hours,” he said.

He noted other TDs such as Mattie McGrath and John Paul Phelan have also spoken out about concerns for their constituents.

They recognise it could be a unfortunate person from their own area who could have a heart attack and would not have time to get to a Dublin Hospital.
If you get a heart attack in Wexford or in Tipperary, where do you go? Do you go through Waterford to get to Cork or do you go to Dublin? It’s beggars belief.
People are absolutely very concerned living in these areas… We need an absolute commitment that you will be treated the same in Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny or like any other part in the country if you have a heart attack.

Halligan said he has been campaigning for increased services at the hospital for years, adding that he finds it frustrating how slow things have been progressing.

“It is very frustrating and I am stressed, because of what happened to Tom Power and what happened. And it may well happen again. The only thing I will say is that I have succeeded in getting a mobile cath lab and I have succeeded in getting a second review.”

When the mobile cath lab is open in September, and when a review of services is carried out, Halligan said he is confident that the case will be made that 24/7 services are needed.

The assessment “will show we need a full second cath lab 24/7 in Waterford… I am sure it will show the necessity of 24 hour cover… we need it open, staffed and operating on a Saturday and Sunday, just like in most primary care hospitals,” he said.

What message would he send to the Power family?

“The chances are that history will show they will have made a huge impact, regretfully it will have taken the death of their loved one in bringing a second cath lab and 24/7  service to the southeast.”

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