Vivienne Matthews O'Neill and her son Oliver Finn.

Mother cries 'tears of joy' after fears over future of diabetes clinic eased

A local mother says that she cried "tears of joy" when she and other parents had their fears eased that staff shortages would lead to the closure of the paediatric diabetes clinic at Midlands Regional Hospital Mullingar, a service which treats 145 children from across the region.

Parents were informed on Thursday by the clinic's consultant paediatrician Professor Michael O'Grady that its "incredible" advanced nurse practitioner in paediatric diabetes, who had been on leave, was returning on Monday and that a temporary clinical nurse manager was also being redeployed from another department in the hospital.

"In addition, as some of you may already be aware, we have, very recently been successful in securing approval for additional permanent staffing to ensure the long-term stability of the paediatric diabetes service...," Prof O'Grady also said.

Vivienne Matthews O'Neill from Streamstown, whose eight year old son Oliver is a patient at the clinic, says that the affected families are "thrilled" that the advanced nurse practitioner has returned.

"We're absolutely thrilled. Our nurse will be back. The kids are thrilled. They know her. They love her. You really don't understand the pressure that's been lifted off parents' shoulders as a result of this."

For the best part of a month, fears had been mounting about the long term future of the service due to staff shortages after he multi-disciplinary service's consultant paediatrician Professor Michael O'Grady issued a letter to parents asking them “use their collective voices to save your local diabetes service”.

This was the second time in three years that Prof O'Grady had called on parents to campaign to ensure the service remained open.

In the same letter, issued on April 2, Prof O'Grady also informed parents that while clinics would continue, there would be no diabetes nurse or dietician present.

On April 12 parents were informed that a nurse was being transferred on a short term basis to the clinic from the same service in MRH Portlaoise. This move was criticised by some parents as "robbing Peter to pay Paul". In addition, on Monday and Tuesday of last week parents were unable to contact the clinic due to staff shortages.

In the letter sent out last Thursday, Prof O'Grady said that "it has never been the intention of hospital management 'to close the paediatric diabetes service, as has been portrayed on social media".

"The paediatric diabetes service is a critical service for our local community. It has been extremely tested in recent weeks to maintain services as a result of staffing challenges and urgent solutions were needed as the current situation was not sustainable even in the medium term."

Ms Matthews O'Neill was one of the parents who had tried to call the clinic last Monday. She was calling for assistance as her son had 10 hypos in one day. While relieved that the service's future appears secure, she says that staff shortages like this must not be allowed to happen again.

"I cannot stress how awful this past couple of weeks has been. Adults (Miss Matthews O'Neill is a diabetic) just get on with diabetes day in, day out, thank God.

"We just get on with it ourselves and we have no choice and that's fine. But for childhood diabetics, people don't understand the amount of insulin changes they need, the amount of supervision they need. You could have a great day, or a great two days, or even three days, and then suddenly it all goes, whoa, and we were just missing that security."

In the Dáil last Tuesday, April 17, Taoiseach Simon Harris has said a “scarcity of specialist” nursing staff in Ireland was to blame for the issues at the paediatric diabetic clinic.

He made the comments, following queries by Deputy Sorca Clarke and Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice.

Harris told the Dáil he understood it was “an important issue”.

“There is a scarcity of specialist-trained paediatric nursing staff,” he said.

Deputy Clarke said that parents "especially of children as young as two years of age who have been recently diagnosed, were beside themselves with worry at this point".