At the time of writing, the planned three-day nursing strike has been suspended. This is really good news for everyone concerned because it had the potential to bring the already beleaguered health service to its knees. Even with the strike suspension, tens of thousands of appointments and surgeries have already been cancelled.
Nurses’ strike notwithstanding, it seems to me as an observer that the entire health service is about to collapse – as there appears to be problems everywhere.
The plight of the nurses is well documented. Ciaran Mullooly did a piece on RTE last week during which he asked student nurses about the future. Every single young person he spoke to said that they planned to emigrate when they’ve qualified. It’s a huge issue. We are training our young people for export to the UK, the Middle East and Australia. Retention and pay are huge issues. The Government has to get real and sort out the nursing situation for once and for all.
But that is merely only one problem in our health service. There are huge problems in A&E departments all around the country, with long delays and patients lying on trollies because of staff and bed shortages. In addition, there are over 500,000 people on waiting lists for hospital appointments and surgery. The figures are mind-boggling, and seem to be growing all the time.
We then have the situation where there are scores of consultants’ posts vacant across the country, which is leading to further delays in the treatment of patients.
The GPs are very unhappy too. Last week, hundreds of doctors took to the streets to vent their anger on a number of issues, not least what they claim is a major lack of investment in the primary care sector.
If that wasn’t enough, psychiatric nurses are also up in arms about the deficits in their sector and what they are calling ‘years of neglect’ of the mental health area. To put the tin hat on the whole situation, ambulance drivers are planning to go out on strike at the end of this week in a dispute about union recognition.
The National Children’s Hospital is now a runaway train as regards the projected cost. It could cost the taxpayer over €2 billion before it’s opened.
By any yardstick, it’s a disastrous situation. Anyone who can actually get access to our health system is very well looked after by very professional and caring staff, but there is a log jam on the ground that seems to be getting worse with every passing year.
Many Ministers for Health have tried and failed to address the problems in the health service over the years. Micheál Martin, Mary Harney, Leo Varadkar, James Reilly and now Simon Harris are among those who have promised many great things – and to put the situation right – but it just seems to keep deteriorating. Maybe the HSE is a monster that is too big for any minister to successfully address.
It was depressing listening to the many people on Liveline in recent weeks who have travelled abroad for surgery and treatment and who report almost instant access with no overcrowding and excellent service.
Many mistakes have been made over the years but surely it is not beyond the various stakeholders to sit down and carry out a root and branch review of the whole system from top to bottom. Maybe I am being naïve in thinking that’s a realistic goal. But with so many problems in our health service – as outlined above – we owe it to future generations to try to fix it.
Leo Varadkar is a great man for spin and the throwaway line that looks and sounds good on social media. As a medical man himself, he should set it as a priority to do something about a health service that costs the taxpayer so much money.