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Speech by Minister Willie O’Dea - Adjournment Debate

31st January 2006
I share the Deputy’s concern that this situation should have arisen. My first priority in dealing with this is the welfare of the troops who were attended to by this man. To that end the Director of the Medical Corps, has contacted each person who had served in Liberia during the period in question alerting them to the situation and advising them of the measures the Medical Corps were putting in place to deal with any concerns they may have.

As a result any Defence Force member treated by the person concerned and who wished to discuss any aspect of his or her treatment with a Medical Officer was invited to consult their local military Medical Officer or alternatively to contact the special medical hotline established by the Army Medical Corps. I understand that, to date, there has been one call to this line.

The background to this situation arises from Defence Force policy of providing medical care for personnel serving with large contingents overseas. In the case of missions such as Lebanon and Liberia it is the practice to send medical officers as part of the contingent.

Given the arduous nature of the Liberia mission, with troops undertaking frequent long-term patrols away from base it was deemed necessary to have two doctors with the battalion. The mission in Liberia is, of it nature, a peace enforcement one. This resulted in a situation whereby medical officers who had been recruited prior to 1993 could not be detailed to serve there and could only be selected to serve there as volunteers.

These requirements coupled with a general difficulty in recruiting and retaining doctors in the Defence Force created a situation whereby the medical officer requirements for the mission could not be fully met among the doctors serving at that time.

Following a tender competition involving a number of Agencies, a contract, was placed with Medicare Solutions Ltd, Unit 15D, Oakcroft Road, Chessington, Surrey, England.

The contract was initially for a period of three months commencing on 1st June 2004 and was subsequently extended to February 2005. Following a further tender competition a fresh contract, at €2,630 per doctor per week, was placed commencing 1st March 2005. During this time Medicare Solutions had supplied a number of other Doctors for periods lasting from a few weeks to three months. This contract expired on 31st December 2005. As and from 1st January 2006 the Defence Forces have been in a position to provide doctors from within the Medical Corps.

The procedure for selecting suitable individual doctors was that candidates were identified and selected by the Medical Corps from the Curricula Vitae supplied to the Department by Medicare Solutions who had expressed an interest in working with the Irish military contingent in Liberia.

This selection was done on the basis of the professional qualifications and particular clinical experience, of the various applicants as per their individual CV’s. Dr. Lieberthal was selected to replace another previously selected candidate who had decided not to proceed to Liberia at very late notice. There appeared to be nothing whatsoever untoward in the CV supplied in respect of Dr. Lieberthal.

Dr. Lieberthal was first appointed for a three-month period from 8th December 2004. He was retained in Liberia until 31st December 2005, when the overall contract with Medicare Solutions expired. He worked in a civilian capacity and provided primary military medical care services to troops i.e. largely care of the routine General Practitioner type. He also provided a similar level of medical service to a small contingent of Swedish military personnel.

It was only after the contract had expired that it came to the attention of my Department that Dr. Wynne Lieberthal, had been struck off the South African medical register by the Health Professions Council of South Africa in July 2004 after their investigation of various charges brought him under the relevant South African Legislation.

I am extremely concerned as to how this situation arose and I will ensure that all necessary steps are taken to avoid any possible repetition.

I am awaiting an urgent report from the Chief of Staff. I understand that legal advice is being sought as to the performance of the specialist medical recruitment agency engaged to provide suitably qualified doctors who either had or would be expected to fulfil the requirements of the Irish Medical Council.

It would not be appropriate to anticipate the outcome of legal advice and possible follow-up action at this early stage. The requirement to pursue Irish Medical Council registration was included in the contract with the Agency. However, I understand that the person in question applied for but never obtained Irish Medical Council registration. The delay in identifying this failure to obtain such registration will form part of the report on the situation.

While the safeguards in place will be reviewed along with the performance of the Agency, it should be pointed out that in the first instance the person himself should not have commenced work based on falsehoods.

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