Held To Ransom

August 9, 2009

Having spent the best part of the last month undergoing treatment in a semi-private ward of a large public hospital, I’ve seen first-hand how our health service operates. It’s the same old story. Once you get through A&E and into the system, the care is excellent. But it’s not all a bed of roses.

In Ireland, we have a 2-tier public health service with a unique mix of public/private patients and public/private consultants. Approximately one third of hospital consultants work in public-only practice. That leaves 70% of consultants allowed to practice publicly and privately. These consultants enjoy the best of both worlds. They do not have a boss, their hours are not monitored and many enjoy extraordinary salaries. Granted, our Minister for Health, Mary Harney has tried to exert control over hospital consultants by introducing new contracts (terms and conditions with the State) and new posts of clinical directors (about 100) to manage and monitor hours. However, having watched the consultants do their ward rounds over the last month, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that we’re all being held to ransom. It’s time someone blew the whistle.

I witnessed consultants reassuring elderly patients that there was no hurry for them to go home. I’m talking here about patients who had very obviously recovered from the acute illness that brought them into hospital. These patients had homes to go to with family in support, they were not waiting to be allocated a nursing home bed. We hear so much about the shortage of beds in our acute hospitals. Why are the consultants not working hard to free-up beds?

I saw the look of disbelief on the faces of the junior doctors (NCHDs) as a consultant announced further tests on a young girl who’d been in hospital for many weeks and whose tests had all come back normal. This girl appeared very well to me so why was she occupying a hospital bed? Why were her investigations continuing as an in-patient?

group insurance

Could it be that hospital consultants choose to have a proportion of beds occupied by patients who require minimal input of care/time? Patients whose health insurance will continue to reimburse both the hospital and private consultant as long as they occupy a bed? Is this the realistic truth? I presume that the NCHDs remain silent on this issue because their jobs depend on pleasing the consultant?

I don’t know about you but my conscience finds it very difficult to accept that ‘well’ patients are occupying hospital beds when I know that acutely ill patients are lying on trolleys in A&E?

We have some fantastic consultant doctors in this country who are totally dedicated to their profession and I’ve no wish to tarnish their reputation. However, as a patient, I feel a need to protect our health service. The fact is, I depend on it.


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