Culture of Concealment at Tallaght Hospital

The OMERTA culture in Irish medicine is alive and kicking.

The following is a quote from the Irish Times article on March 12th, page 8 written by Eithne Donnellan and Paul Cullen. “…a member of the hospital board claimed it was being “hung out to dry” through leaking of information about unreferred X-rays and GP referral letters.

The member said that the problem in relation to both issues had been “solved” and a complete restructuring of the hospital’s organisation was being undertaken.  “The question is why is someone trying to damage the hospital at this stage and hanging us out to dry.”

Prof Conlon, who began as chief executive designate last December, had done everything he could within the constraints he was facing, the board member said.  He declined to speak publicly, saying Prof Conlon had instructed board members to refer all inquiries to him or the hospital’s press officer.

A number of other board members also said that they had been told not to comment, while the majority of members failed to return a message left by the Irish Times.”

Interpretation and Commentary

The attitude of that board member nicely encapsulates the culture of concealment rife in Irish life and accurately mirrored in Irish hospitals.

Experience shows that proper professionalism and standards across Irish hospitals are fostered by the continuous exposure of inadequate or dangerous or careless or incompetent practices in our institutions.

Patients, professionals and the public in general benefit from this exposure. Other hospitals with deficiencies in the exposed areas are reminded to address the issues and inspections on individual subjects force change across the system.  HIQA and other accreditation bodies have proven their worth and their necessity.

Thus a free press is the bulwark of a democratic and accountable society.

This is the reason that I continuously rail against the culture of intimidatory institutional secrecy as exemplified by hospital policies on speaking out.  There is no whistle blowers charter and secrecy and administrative intimidation and threats are the cornerstone of administrative policy in our hospitals.  Sections on discipline in the consultant contract reflects this culture overtly.

Medicine has drifted away from loyalty to patients and the profession of medicine towards loyalty to the institution above all else.  Doctors are frowned upon by colleagues if they transgress this code of Medical Omerta.

These quotes above from the Irish Times show that such a Board member is unfit to remain on that board.

What business is it of Prof Conlon, the Tallaght CEO, to instruct Board members what to do with regard to the current revelations?  The CEO’s role is to carry out board policy not to formulate policy and play commanding officer.  The role of Chairman and CEO must remain separate in the public interest.  If there is nothing to hide or spin, then no harm will result from board members talking to the press.  It makes me wonder what else is out there to hide?