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'I had a heart attack myself - if people don't get help in that first hour, they won't make it'

Around 200 people gathered outside Dáil Éireann today to call for 24-hour cardiac care for Waterford and the South-East.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

AS PEOPLE GATHERED outside the gates of Leinster House today to call for a 24-hour cardiac services for the South-East, there were two main reasons people gave for making the journey up: the death of local man Thomas Power, and their own personal stories.

Thomas Power, a Waterford man in his 40s who was just recently married, died of a heart attack while in an ambulance to Cork University Hospital last month.

His death has spurred on calls and protests for a cath lab for Waterford University Hospital that would serve that county, and parts of Wexford, Kilkenny and Tipperary as well.

Today, Thomas’ sister Catherine attended a meeting at Leinster House to discuss her concerns – and although Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Minister Shane Ross, as well as healthcare experts attended the meeting – the Minister for Health Simon Harris didn’t.

“He couldn’t be bothered,” Catherine said during a media briefing, saying that those who were in attendance ‘were all for’ a Waterford cath lab.

“We’ve enough reviews, just get the machinery in and open the cath lab,”she said at an announcement today by the Department of Health of a national review of heart care services.

DSC_0424 Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

‘He would have had a fighting chance’ if the Waterford cath lab had have been open, one protester holding an ‘I [broken heart] Tom’ sign said. “That man deserved a fighting chance.”

“Since that man died, it’s sort of highlighted the whole thing,” local Councillor David Hynes said, who’s undergone a bypass himself.

“Unfortunately, it always takes someone’s death before people realise that this is a very, very serious situation and it needs to be addressed urgently.”

And urgent for a very real reason: it concerns serious health issues for families.

“Heart disease is very prevalent in my family,” Stephanie McGuire tells TheJournal.ie. “My mother has seven stents inserted, my uncle has two inserted, and my uncle passed away a few years ago from a massive heart attack.”

It’s a massive scare for us that if my mam wakes during the night and she’s having a heart attack. We’ll get her to Waterford Hospital, but to get her to Cork in 90 minutes is just impossible. Because any time she has gotten them, it’s been 3am, 4am.

DSC_0427 A sign at the protest that reads: 9 to 5 is a great song, NOT a proper cardiac service for [the South East]

A Dublin-rural divide

The issue of a 24/7 cath lab, or a dedicated cardiac unit for University Hospital Waterford, has become an increasingly complicated topic for the government.

It became a national (and political) focus point when Independent TD for Waterford John Halligan asked for it in exchange for his support of the Fine Gael government.

The government agreed – pending the result of a report by Dr Niall Herity. The report was completed into whether a cath lab was needed in the region, and it concluded it wasn’t, which sparked outrage among the Waterford community that their healthcare had been used as a political tool.

90429722_90429722 Waterford TD John Halligan. Source: Sam Boal

“As far as I’m concerned, that [report is] nonsense,” David Hynes said. “Common sense would even tell you that – you don’t need a report to tell you that it’s not good enough.

I think because I had a heart operation and a heart attack myself, the first hour is absolutely crucial, and if people don’t get help in that hour they won’t make it.

That’s in reference to the report’s assertion that it takes 88 minutes to travel from Waterford to Cork Hospital – an assertion that many protesters say isn’t possible.

“They’re telling us it takes 88 minutes,” Jimmy and Brigid McCarthy say, a couple from Waterford who attended the protest because ‘it could be anyone’ who dies next.

There’s no way on this planet to get from Waterford to Cork City Hospital, so by the time you go there and get assessed, that’s so many minutes after passing.

They said that the mobile cath lab, that the Department of Health promised by the end of the year, would only help reduce waiting list times and wouldn’t treat people outside 9-5 weekday times.

“We don’t want anything else other than to be treated fairly,” Jimmy says. “We’re not looking for anything extra.”

“We need to be treated the same as every other part of the country,” Brigid adds.

That’s an often-repeated view: that this is a healthcare right they’re being denied, and some people blame a Dublin-rural divide that’s causing the lack of political will.

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DSC_0422 Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

“There’s around 200 people here now,” Jim Murphy says, standing directly at the Dáil gates. ”But in Waterford, 18,000-20,000 people turn out all the time.

The feeling is unbelievable in Waterford about this, and the South East in general.

Another person out supporting the cause is Mary Doyle, who’s carrying equipment for the media briefing outside the Dáil.

“We all understand the waiting lists on trolleys, but for us in the South East, it’s the inequality of it.

For the size of our population, it’s inexcusable that we only have one lab and that it’s not open at the weekends and after 5 o’clock.

One Waterford man said that Thomas Power’s death and the cath lab issue has people wondering about their relative’s deaths, and whether the proximity of a cath lab would have saved lives before now.

“A person hasn’t got a chance,” another man says. “If something happens after 5 o’clock in the evening, what are they going to do?”

DSC_0429 Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

In response to the protest today, the Department of Health said that all decisions must be evidence-based, referring to the report by Dr Herity:

“With regard to emergency work at the hospital, all decisions on how we configure our health services must be evidence based.

Dr Herity recommended that emergency work should cease in order to allow the hospital to focus on the much larger volume of planned work and to contribute to improved patient outcomes.

The Department of Health spokesperson added that Ireland’s Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PPCI) services are a national issue – and the Minister has asked for a report on services across the country.

…Minister Harris has asked the Department of Health to make arrangements for a full national review to be undertaken, based upon independent clinical expertise.
This will obviously include the South East of the country.

“This review will seek to ensure that as many patients as possible have access on a 24/7 basis to safe and sustainable emergency interventions following a heart attack and come up with a plan for the achievement of the best patient outcomes possible, with clinical safety paramount.”

In reaction to today’s cath lab protest, John Halligan said that the turnout showed that the Waterford community ”are not willing to tolerate being second class citizens when it comes to their healthcare”, and said that the mobile cath lab was not a replacement for a 24/7 unit.

“It is important for people to be clear that the mobile lab proposal was not designed as an alternative to a permanent second cath lab.

“It is interim measure while we continue to fight for improved services at UHW and that fight is only beginning, judging by the crowd who turned out at Leinster House today.”

“We will get it eventually,” one protester said, adding that there would be more protests to come.

Read: ‘If you have a heart attack in Waterford, Wexford or Kilkenny you should be treated the same’

Read: Crowds gather at Waterford hospital after man dies while being transferred to Cork

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