On March 1st Mary Harney brought whistleblower laws in to effect for health workers. This is obviously a good thing. The problem I hear from some health workers is that they are raising fears about patient safety with superiors but because of tight budgets nothing is done.
I wrote about a case last weekend where health workers in Dun Laoghaire were concerned that the eyesight of young 100 school children were being put at risk due to the failure to appoint an administrator for the local health screening programme.
The HSE have a policy of not replacing clerical staff that retire, go on leave, go on maternity leave, get moved internally, that are on long term sick leave... the list goes on. So problems like this one in south Dublin, where public health concerns come second to a manager's need to allocate scarce resources, are bound to happen
In this case a whistleblower approached us in despair that the HSE management were not addressing the concerns of health workers. Basically out of 3,500 children screened from the HSE's Dun Laoghaire health centre each year 100 are referred on to an eye specialist. If the problem of amblyopia isn't addressed before the age of seven or eight it may be too late and the child may lose the use of one eye. As the woman who ran the programme's administration last year retired and was not replaced the programme couldn't happen this year.
It was a small story for us in the Sunday Times but our raising the issue with the HSE had a big effect on this problem.
We asked the HSE why they weren't doing this screening and why they wouldn't warn parents it had been withdrawn. In response the HSE promised they would start the screening again in the next few weeks and insisted the programme had been "delayed" and was never "withdrawn".
Obviously some clerical officer has now been reassigned to this programme. Inevitably this shuffling of resources means some other area of the HSE has lost a worker and a new problem is created.
Still, instant result for the whistleblower. Would approaching another manager instead of a newspaper have yielded the same outcome?