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Galway’s public hospital boss owns private MRI facility



Date Published: {J}

By Darragh McDonagh

The Clinical Director of Galway’s public hospitals has been called on to consider his position after it emerged that he is a stakeholder in a private MRI Imaging Centre that has an exclusive agreement with the HSE to provide services to Galway University Hospitals (GUH).

Dr David O’Keeffe has been accused of having an untenable conflict of interests after the Connacht Tribune revealed that he is a partner in a private medical imaging centre located on public land within the grounds of Merlin Park Hospital.

A HSE spokesperson this week confirmed that Dr O’Keeffe made a declaration regarding his private practice interests relating to Merlin Park Imaging Centre and continuing practice at Bon Secours Hospital prior to his appointment as Clinical Director for acute services and continuing care in Galway and Roscommon.

Records show that he signed an agreement with the regional health authority in 2003 that restricts Galway’s two public hospitals from using the services of any other private medical imaging provider other than the one of which he is a partner.

The lucrative contract was awarded to Dr O’Keeffe and eight other medical professionals calling themselves the Merlin Park Radiology Group without a competitive tendering process contrary to current public procurement guidelines.

The agreement means that the Clinical Director of Galway’s public hospitals inadvertently benefits from an inability to cut waiting lists for medical imaging scans because public patients are referred to his group’s private facility at the expense of the taxpayer if they are left waiting for a sufficiently long period.

There were more than 1,860 people awaiting an MRI scan for up to 18 months at University Hospital Galway (UHG) at the end of last year, while a further 1,700 were waiting to have an ultrasound.

Public patients in Galway can expect to wait 15 months for an MRI scan at present, but if a patient can afford to pay around €500 at Dr O’Keeffe’s private imaging centre, they can undergo a scan and have results within 24 hours.

There is only one public MRI scanner in Galway, located at UHG, but this is not utilised at full capacity despite calls from members of the Regional Health Forum as far back as 2008 to extend its operating hours.

There are three private MRI scanners located in Galway but the city’s public hospitals are restricted from using the services of any private facility other than Dr O’Keeffe’s by virtue of the agreement.

Cllr Colm Keaveney, a member of the Regional Health Forum, has called on the Clinical Director to consider his position in light of the revelation and accused John Hennessy, HSE regional director of operations, of protecting Dr O’Keeffe by declining to answer a question on the matter last month.

“There is a blatant and untenable conflict of interests whereby the Clinical Director has a vested interest in ensuring that the public health system fails,” he said.

The land at Merlin Park on which the imaging centre is situated is leased to Dr O’Keeffe’s group for less than €180 a week. The bill for utilities such as telephone and electricity, as well as access to a multi-million euro IT system, is footed by the taxpayer.

Read more in this week’s Connacht Tribune

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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