A good day?

March 10, 2011

I like it…

On Tuesday, Olivia O’Leary shared some thoughts on International Women’s Day.

Then yesterday, our new Taoiseach, Enda Kenny revealed his new Cabinet.

And, guess what?…

The Labour deputy leader, Moan Joan Burton, the party’s Finance spokesperson for the past nine years, did not get the portfolio with responsibility for public sector reform, for which she had been widely tipped. Instead, she was given Social Protection.

Also… two prominent female Labour TD’s, Roisín Shortall and Jan O’Sullivan were not promoted.

Add to that… there are fewer women in this new Cabinet than in the outgoing government.

Progress… eh?

As far as I can see, the only concession made was that a woman was appointed to the position of Attorney General…

Labour’s Máire Whelan, is the first woman to occupy the post of legal adviser to the government. Hur…ray!

Apart from all that, the good news is… this new coalition government has promised major health reform. The new Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, is committed to developing a new universal health insurance (UHI) system which aims to end 2-tier healthcare and give everyone equal access to GP and hospital treatment based solely on medical need.

Bring it on!


Time For Change

November 17, 2008

susie-long3

I’m sure most people reading this will remember the tragic case of Susie Long from Kilkenny, who died from bowel cancer last year. Susie made headlines when she went public to highlight how she had to wait seven months for a test to her diagnose her illness because she was a public patient. Susie was 41 when she died and her death was directly attributable to a long delay on a waiting list. Shortly afterwards, our Minister for Health admitted that the health service had failed Susie. So why, a year after Susie’s death, do new figures show that patients still have to wait up to nine months for crucial tests to determine if they have bowel cancer?

“The figures released by the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) yesterday indicate patients can be waiting up to nine months for colonoscopies at Dublin’s Mater hospital, up to eight months at Cork University Hospital, and up to seven months at Sligo and Letterkenny general hospitals.

The data is based on returns provided by the hospitals to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which now manages waiting lists.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer in Ireland after lung cancer. There were 2,184 new cases diagnosed and 924 deaths from the disease in 2005.

The Irish Cancer Society expressed serious concern at the waiting times. It said patients should have a colonoscopy within six weeks of being referred by their GP.

The full Irish Times article can be found here.

Susie Long did her utmost to bring about change.  She bravely used her own personal tragedy to highlight the inequities in the system and her courage was not in vain. A trust fund, called the Susie Long Hospice Fund, has been set up to raise funds to build a hospice in Kilkenny. The trust aims to help as many people as possible to have a calm, peaceful and supportive environment at the end of their lives.  Here’s how you can help.

These latest figures on the waiting lists for colonoscopies, show that little has changed since Susie’s death. People’s lives are still being put at risk by long delays in treatment. Our health service is in disarray and we need agreement on a plan to put it right. It’s time we had a proper debate on the way forward.


Make Your Voice Heard

October 20, 2008

Last week the Government caused uproar by announcing plans to scrap the automatic entitlement to a medical card for all over-70′s. Having lulled the elderly into a false sense of security that they would be entitled to free healthcare until the end of their days, they are now trying to claw back on this commitment. There is no denying that this country is facing a serious economic downturn and that harsh cutbacks are required to sustain public finances but this callous plan to target the elderly, is despicable.

Enough has already been said about the bungled campaign to introduce a ‘means test’ for the over-70′s medical card. I have never felt so angry and frustrated by the gross incompetence shown by our Government in their handling of this issue. They are guilty of causing great fear and anguish to those most vulnerable in our society. The comments made over the weekend by our Minister for Health, Mary Harney and our Taoiseach, Brian Cowen have done nothing to allay the fears of the elderly. Now the Government is floundering around trying to find a way out of the controversy created. Our health service is no longer alone in it’s descent into chaos.

A public rally has been organised outside the Dáil at lunchtime on Wednesday to protest against this Government’s attempt to mug the elderly. If you too have been outraged by this medical card débâcle, I would urge you to show solidarity with the elderly and support this protest.

Assemble @ 1pm on Wednesday 22 October in Kildare Street, outside the Dáil.


Be Angry

April 9, 2008

When I first saw the list of speakers lined-up to participate in the Health Debate, I couldn’t believe my luck. This was a prime opportunity to hear our Minister for Health endeavour to defend her tactics to privatise healthcare in this country at the cost of the public health service. As it turned out, she left in a bit of a hurry but I did, at least succeed in getting to have my say.

I arrived early in the front square of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) just as the State car drew up at the entrance to the Exam Hall. Mary Harney stepped out of the car wearing what can only be described as, velour pyjamas and with her entourage in tow, she proceeded up the length of the exam hall with me in hot pursuit. Her pyjamas proved to be an excellent decoy as nobody took a blind bit of notice of her and she was quickly escorted to a side room to await the arrival of the real stars of the night. The debate was ably chaired by Conor Gannon of TCD VdeP Society, who did a fine job introducing each of the speakers and keeping order throughout the debate. The motion put forward was: “This House believes that the Irish Health System Fails the Disadvantaged”. I’m delighted to be able to report the motion received unanimous support from the audience and Mary Harney and her band of loyal followers suffered a resounding defeat. Unfortunately, she didn’t stick around for long enough to hear the disquiet that flowed from those on the panel in support of the motion, and from the audience. She made a hasty retreat shortly after delivering her own contribution to the debate. We were told that she had been “called away by Cabinet business”. Yeah, right!

The debate was opened by Prof. Orla Hardiman who gave an impassioned speech about the faults within the health service. She urged the audience to “be angry, be very angry”. She is firmly in favour of an equitable healthcare system for all and her address received rapturous support. Mary Harney then got to her feet and declared that it is her intention to provide a health service based on medical need (as opposed to ability to pay) and insisted that huge progress has been made. We got reams of statistics about how the health service is helping us to live longer but in reality, it was a lacklustre performance. She was constantly interrupted by a heckler in the audience who persisted in shouting her down despite repeated requests to desist. While this heckler was clearly out of order, his intervention proved to be the only challenge to Mary Harney last night as she departed before any one else got the opportunity. Fergus O’Ferrall, speaking in favour of the motion, informed us that 90% of the €16 billion spent annually on the health service comes directly from our taxes. The other 10% of funding comes from the private health insurance market. He accused the HSE of mismanagement through under-provision and rationing of services. The next speaker, Dr. Sean Barrett who opposed the motion, almost won approval when he declared that this health service not only fails the disadvantaged, “it fails everyone”. However, he then proceeded to place the blame on productivity being too low, the fact that private medicine is practised in public hospitals, the high ratio of staff to number of beds, and a greedy medical profession. He made no mention of the Dept of Health or the HSE. Mary Harney scuttled out of the room at this point while she still had someone on side. Throughout the evening, those in support of the motion gave credit to the late Susie Long for using her own plight to highlight the failures within the service. The opposition put forward two further speakers, an ex-TCD student and member of the young Progressive Democrat party (Mary Harney is a PD ) and also a manager from the HSE who were both, it has to be said, less than convincing. We also heard from two further speakers in support of the motion. Audrey Deane, representing the St.Vincent de Paul Society, told the room that HSE managers are turning to the SVdeP to access help for those failed by the system. How bizarre is that? The final speaker in support of the motion was Prof John Crown who denounced the waiting lists caused by underfunding in the health service. He joked that if we had such a thing as an abortion clinic in this country, he was sure the waiting list would be 10 months. “That’s if you go privately, going publicly would take longer!” EU figures for waiting times, show Ireland coming 2nd last on the list. He accused the HSE of employing too many spin doctors, referring to the place as ‘Burassic Park’. John Crown wants to see the Bismarck model of healthcare implemented (a one tier, not-for-profit health service) or else he warned “we’re heading for a ‘Paris Hilton’ style of health care”.

The debate was then opened to the floor and speaker after speaker outlined their experience of the deficiencies within the service. I waited until the end of the night before taking to the floor and then, I let rip. I surprised myself by the depth of passion which flowed as I spoke about the chaos in the public health service, the squalor of the conditions endured by sick people and the scourge of MRSA in our hospitals. I outlined the madness of the recent HSE cutbacks, the continuing problems in A&E despite claims to the contrary and warned of the consequences to follow if Mary Harney’s continues to privatise healthcare in this country. I also spoke out in defence of those who have private health insurance. We tend to be blamed for contributing to the a 2-tier health system when in fact we feel forced to seek insurance as we know we cannot rely on the health service in times of need. I concluded by commending the hard work of those healthcare workers who strive to provide excellent care in difficult conditions and reminded the audience that we need to protect the good aspects of our health service from further government interference.

Following the resignation of our Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, last week Mary Harney announced that she had no intention of running away from her post as Minister for Health. In response, I’d like to say to Mary “be afraid, be very afraid. Time and patience is fast running out.

UPDATE: I forgot to thank Grannymar for her support in helping me to highlight this debate. The chairman of the debate was delighted to have a full house for this annual event and was impressed to hear that the blogging community had given support.


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