A Balancing Act

April 19, 2008

I listened with interest to Prof John Crown on the Late Late show last night as he outlined the failings within our health service. John Crown is a leading consultant oncologist working in the front line of the Irish health service and he doesn’t mince his words. He believes that the consultant’s contract as currently presented by the HSE, is a fiasco. He described it as an apartheid contract for an apartheid system of healthcare. Today, I heard that the Irish Hospital Consultant’s Association (IHCA) has accepted the HSE’s proposals and will be recommending the contract to it’s members in a ballot later this month. Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) is still refusing to come on board and has today requested third party mediation to resolve the problems. On one side, we have a government that insists on perpetuating a 2-tier system of healthcare despite the consensus of opinion which believes that a single tier health service is the way forward. On the other side, we have doctors who don’t like being put under the thumb by administrators who will decide their working hours. This contract has already been four years under discussion and I have to agree with Prof Crown, it has the potential to be a fiasco.

We have a health service in Ireland that offers a high standard of care but the care is not optimal. According to John Crown, this is due to ‘mal’ funding rather than underfunding. When the allocation of money from the HSE runs out, services are cutback at the expense of patient care. Treating patients costs money but It costs the system nothing to have patients on waiting lists. We have a health service run by civil servants instead of having a medical leadership structure in place. The policy of co-located hospitals as proposed by the Progressive Democrat (PD) health policy, is set to cause an even wider divide between the public and private systems. Each system will be differently funded, further adding to the complications. The concept of co-location ultimately means that services are duplicated in the one location. This is neither efficient nor cost effective . The co-located private hospitals already in existence, tend to be small and have sub-optimal expertise in place. As a holder of private health insurance, I can personally testify to this having once faced the decision of having to choose between standard of accommodation and standard of medical care. I was very unwell in A&E at the time and required admission for investigation. As I was known to be infected with MRSA , I required isolation facilities in order to be admitted to the hospital. There were single rooms available in the co-located private hospital but the physician under whose care I was to be admitted, worked only in the public hospital where no isolation facilities were available at that time. This dilemma typifies all that is wrong with the plans for co-location and the divisive nature of the consultant’s contract. I had no problem choosing medical expertise over comfort but I should never have had to make that choice. Why does healthcare have to so divisive? If you’re sick and in need of hospitalization, the type of care you receive shouldn’t be dictated by your ability to pay.

John Crown is in no doubt that the way forward for our health service is a single-tier, not for profit system of healthcare based on a universal system of social insurance. He makes no apology for speaking out about the deficiencies within our health service. As long as there continues to be vested interests and a burgeoning bureaucracy in control of our health service, the system is doomed to fail. The future of the consultant’s contract remains in the balance.


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