Fall-out from hospital bribery inquiry ‘putting heart patients at risk’

Cardiac care at the Isala Hartcentrum in Zwolle has been seriously compromised and patients put at risk following the suspension of two cardiologists, documents obtained by the Volkskrant have shown.

The situation has been worsened by a dispute over who should replace the suspended heart specialists, who are accused of taking bribes to promote pharmaceutical products.

Waiting lists at the hospital have more than doubled from 3,000 to over 7,000 since March, records show. People who have been referred to the hospital but cannot be attended suffer worse health and end up in the emergency department more often.

In a letter sent to the cardiology department, the hospital board warned that ‘patient safety and the continuity of care’ are at stake.

The Isala Hartcentrum is one of the largest cardiology departments in the Netherlands, servicing the provinces of Overijssel, Drenthe and Flevoland.

The hospital has been struggling with a lack of cardiologists, particularly following a recent investigation into suspected bribe taking that led to the suspension of the two staff members. They allegedly received millions of euros from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for favouring their products.

A subsequent and prolonged conflict about who the new cardiologists should be has now prompted the hospital board to deny the resident cardiologists the unique right to select their colleagues for a period of at least a year in an effort to speed things up.

The hospital has been plagued by infighting and a toxic working atmosphere for years, the Volkskrant said. The general staff shortage following the pandemic has made things worse for patients, and although four cardiologists have been recruited from other hospitals, the hospital is still having to ask private clinics to take over patients.

Pressure on the remaining staff is high, one of the documents said and a stop on admittances could be imminent.

The hospital board did not want to comment on the problems at the hospital because it did not want to disrupt an ongoing ‘dialogue with parties involved’, but said it is ‘trying to provide the best cardiac care possible’.

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