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Temple Street Hospital. Sasko Lazarov
Temple Street

Varadkar on spinal surgery issues at Temple Street: 'I can't overstate how concerned I am'

A spinal surgery helpline has been set up for parents and families on 01 409 6117.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Sep 2023

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he cannot overstate how concerned he is about what he is reading in relation to spinal surgery that took place on children in Temple Street Hospital. 

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations in New York, he said “more and more I read about it the more concerned I am, the more bothered I am”.

Consideration has to be given as to the possibility that there is a wider failure of clinical governance, said Varadkar.

“I don’t want to jump to conclusions because this will have to be investigated properly and thoroughly and I know there’s going to be an examination by the Medical Council as well, but the kinds of things I’m hearing about and reading about if they’re true, extend well beyond malpractice,” he added.

He said it is “very, very serious”, adding parents believed that if they’re children received the surgery it was going to make them better, not worse.

“It seems that some of these surgeries were performed incorrectly, and children suffered and were harmed as a result of that. That’s unbelievably serious, like I can’t overstate how concerned I am about that,” Varadkar said before adding that he didn’t want to say anymore until we can understand all the facts about what went on.

Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) will write to all patients and families awaiting life-altering spinal surgeries who could be impacted by the external review into elements of paediatric care by next week.

It comes as the HSE yesterday announced that it has commissioned an external review into elements of paediatric care CHI at Temple Street after one child died and others suffered serious post-surgery complications following spinal surgery there.

The review is focusing on the clinical care provided by an individual consultant at CHI. In a statement today CHI said that it plans to inform parents if their child was on the particular consultant’s waiting list, by Tuesday, 26 September.

The governing body for children’s healthcare assured that all stakeholders in relation to the affected “metalwork” surgeries, of which there are three patients, have been contacted by them already. 

A spinal surgery helpline has been established for parents and families who wish to ask queries in relation to the incident on 01 409 6117.

This afternoon CHI said it “acknowledges the anxiety that this news may cause to our patients and their families.”

However, we would like to reassure our patients and their families that everybody known to have been affected has been contacted.”

“CHI deeply regrets that children and families did not receive the treatment and care that they are entitled to, and that they deserve.

“We wish to unreservedly apologise to all those impacted by the actions that are the subject of this report,” it added.

Earlier, parents with children suffering from serious conditions and waiting for life-altering spinal surgeries hit out at the HSE and CHI as operations have been postponed.

The consultant at the centre of the review is no longer conducting surgeries and a referral has been made about them to the Irish Medical Council. A total of 19 children who underwent surgery are included.

Senior management became aware of issues late last year, and commissioned an internal and external review into the matter. According to news outlet The Ditch - which first reported on the matter – and the Irish Times, certain complicated spinal surgeries have been suspended while the review is ongoing.

This is affecting children who suffer from Spina Bifida, scoliosis and other serious conditions, many of whom have been waiting years for life-changing surgeries. 

Speaking last night on RTÉ’s Upfront programme, Stephen Morrison spoke about the difficulties faced by his 7-year-old son Harvey, who suffers from Spina Bifida and scoliosis.

“I have to watch my son go through horrific pain every single day of his life. Every single day and we get nothing back from the HSE, nothing back from CHI, nothing back from Temple Street,” he said.

Harvey for years has been in and out of Temple Street with pain because his ribs are crushed and his lungs currently.

Morrison said the family were first told in January 2020 Harvey would be getting spinal surgery, but that it was pushed back as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In March of this year they were told he would be getting surgery in April, only for it to be abruptly cancelled.

Morrison said he and his partner were “absolutely shocked” by yesterday’s news.

The review

Late last year, senior management in CHI were made aware of patient safety concerns in relation to the treatment of a small number of patients with Spina Bifida who had spinal surgery at CHI at Temple Street.

The concerns related to poor clinical outcomes following complex spinal surgery, including a high number of post-surgery infections and complications. There were also two serious surgical incidents that happened in July and September of last year.

An internal and external review were commissioned and have taken place, which looked into the care provided by one consultant to 17 children who had complex spinal surgery in CHI at Temple Street.

Since then, one of these children has died, and a number of others have suffered significant post-operative complications. Including the number of patients affected by use of unauthorised implantable devices, the total number of affected patients is 19.

The results of the reviews have not been fully published, but instead a report synthesising the main findings of both reviews was published yesterday.

Another external review will now be carried out by a UK expert, Mr Selvadurai Nayagam, Consultant in Orthopaedics and Trauma, and Head of the Limb Reconstruction Unit at the Royal Liverpool University and Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospitals.

Speaking yesterday, Úna Keightley, co-lead of the Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Paediatric Advocacy Group, said there are numerous issues still to be dealt with that the report has not adequately addressed.

In particular, she said that a comprehensive list of the recommendations arising from the reviews that have taken place should have been made available (the report published today summarises the recommendations rather than printing them in full).

Additionally, parents of the children affected should have been engaged with during the course of the reviews to date, she said.

Speaking to reporters in New York yesterday after his address to the United Nations, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar labelled the incident as “very concerning, very worrying news”.

With reporting from Christina Finn and Muiris O’Cearbhaill

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