BY JACKIE KEOGH
A 90-YEAR-OLD West Cork man’s 600-mile journey for a cataract operation has been described as ‘a failure of our health care system.’
Cork South West TD, Michael Collins (Ind) highlighted the arduous journey undertaken by John Patrick Harrington from Coomhola in Bantry to Belfast, and back again, in the Dáil on Wednesday morning.
Mr Harrington, who is blind in one eye and was rapidly losing the sight in the other, was told that he could be waiting three to four years to have the operation carried out in the south so he and his family decided to travel to Kingsbridge Hospital in Belfast for the procedure on Wednesday, October 25th, as part of the Cross-Border healthcare initiative.
Mr Harrington undertook the eight-hour journey on Tuesday with his son, Jerry, who told The Southern Star he was thankful that the procedure went well, but annoyed that his father was subjected to such an ordeal.
‘For a 90-year-old man to have to travel from one end of the country to the other is nothing short of criminal. The procedure should have been done locally,’ said Jerry.
As someone who has worked with the voluntary ambulance service for 10 years, Jerry (50) said: ‘It is frustrating to see how our healthcare system is deteriorating.’
He said father had been in and out of hospital a lot recently and that the staff at Bantry General Hospital were terrific. ‘It is just the waiting times that are outrageous,’ he added.
He did, however, thank Michael Collins who intervened on their behalf, which meant his dad’s waiting time was reduced from four years to two weeks.
Apart from wanting to have the procedure done to improve his own quality of life, John Patrick Harrington needed it because he is a carer for his wife, Nora (82), who has Alzheimer’s.
Shortly after the procedure was completed at a cost of £1,290stg, the father and son embarked on the journey home at noon with an ETA of 7pm on Wednesday evening.
‘It is a punishing journey,’ said Jerry, ‘not even a lorry driver would be legally entitled to drive those hours.’
Jerry confirmed that the cost of the procedure will be reimbursed in five weeks’ time as part of the Cross-Border healthcare initiative, but he said: ‘It should be pointed out that there is a huge cost involved in travelling and staying overnight. That is the least of our worries, but it might cause a problem, financially, for some families.’
Jerry also took two days off work. ‘Again, that is not a problem for me, but there are people who live on their own and do not have the same level of family support.’
In the Dáil, Deputy Collins described the situation as not only a failure of the health care system but also a failure in terms of the country’s care of the elderly.
‘People, like John Patrick Harrington, have worked tirelessly all their life, and paid their dues, yet they are left suffering and in need for the simplest of procedures,’ Michael Collins told The Southern Star.
The TD said he felt compelled to raise the issue in the Dáil because it is an issue that is of huge concern to his constituents in Cork South West, an area that has a large ageing demographic.
Deputy Collins also questioned the delay in opening the extension to Bandon Hospital – a facility that was completed in August, but has yet to re-open due to staffing issues.
The TD said the delay in opening the hospital had put many elderly people in his constituency in jeopardy because those in emergency situations now have to travel to Macroom, which is 40 minutes away, and is not serviced by any public transport links.
The TD put it to the Minister for Health that the Friends of Bandon Hospital and the people of Bandon ‘have raised hundreds of thousands and now their newly-renovated facility is lying idle.’
He also complained that interviews to replace two consultants at Bantry General Hospital should have been carried out ‘in good time’ and not left until the two men had retired, saying: ‘This is not the right way to deal with our elderly.’