Northern Ireland's health service has been forced to resort to a damage-control exercise after the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust waited for more than a year to review patients at high risk.
The man behind this unpardonable scandal is Professor Philip Lamey, a consultant in oral medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital and one of the UK's top dentists whose record was being investigated by General Dental Council (GDC) to decide on his credibility as a physician. His work had already caused concern and yet the Trust did nothing to address the health concerns of his patients for nearly thirteen months. †John Compton, chief executive of the Health & Social Care Board, had told the Stormont Health Committee there were no significant issues even when the review of 117 patients was pending.
This attitude has come under scathing criticism, especially when four of the patients have died of oral cancer. It is yet to be ascertained whether their deaths were a result of late diagnosis.
Since then, 18 of the patients who had immediate needs were seen and treated and letters have gone to the others to return for a check-up. A number of clinics will assist patients who would like a new check-up and a dedicated phone line would be set up.
Although, Dr Tony Stevens, medical director of the Trust seems confident that the recall of the 117 patients was just a precautionary measure and states, "We do not want to cause undue alarm as they are unlikely to have any serious illness but we wish to offer them the chance of a full dental assessment," others are under the pressure of explaining this negligence.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey is especially under fire as public opinion has been ranged against him and the Health Service because of this incident. To restore confidence he needs to take immediate action which he has started to take through announcing a thorough investigation.††
McGimpsey has claimed, "I expect this inquiry will be rigorous and independent. They will examine the quality of care to patients, the circumstances surrounding this issue and the subsequent handling".
Certainly, the patients and their families need all the reassurance they can get right now.