Ever since the establishment of the HSE, the health service in this country has become more chaotic with every passing year. A posse of well-meaning ministers from different parties have come in and vowed to change things. They have all failed miserably – and that includes the current incumbent, Simon Harris.
Now the plan is to return the running of the HSE to six regional areas, an approach which sounds very much like it’s back to the days of the old health boards. I would not criticise this latest plan before it has a chance, but if the powers that be thought that the old system didn’t work, then why are we now going back to what is essentially what we had in the past?
I have had personal experience of having to deal with the health service in recent times. When you actually get into the system, the staff are caring and professional, top class in every way. But trying to get into the system is the big problem. There seems to be absolutely no joined up thinking and, even more crucially, no accountability. There are layers and layers of bureaucracy in the HSE. When things go wrong you can never find anyone willing to accept responsibility.
My experience is that the only truly dependable medical service comes from our overworked GPs. Instead of paying lip service to Primary Care, the Government must formulate a cohesive and properly funded plan for Primary Care throughout the country. The chaos, despair and misery that exists in A&E units throughout the country on a daily basis must be halted. I have seen it first-hand and it is a thoroughly depressing experience. Nobody should have to put up with it.
The problem with running our health service is that ministers go into the job with clear ideas of what they want to do to straighten things out, but they get bogged down almost immediately. I somehow doubt if there is a single politician in Dáil Éireann who is prepared to go in and make the very difficult decisions that are needed to sort this out once and for all. There would have to be job losses in certain areas of administration, and there would also have to be restructuring of the entire organisation to make it one where the patient is at the centre of everything it does. And patient-centred is not how it is at the moment.
There are hundreds of vacant consultant posts and there is hardly a word about that at all. These are the people who make the crucial decisions as to what treatment people need. I am convinced that people have died or are dying as a result of not being able to access treatment. If that is the case, we should be ashamed. There are 560,000 people waiting for a hospital appointment and tens of thousands more waiting for essential surgery.
My experience is that the people on the front-line of our health services – the doctors and nurses and support staff – are fantastic individuals, but they are working under increasing pressure with every passing day, month and year.
We need an overall plan to get us out of the mess we are in. Bring in the GPs, support Primary Care properly in order to ease the burden on hospitals, appoint the consultants that are needed, and make people in the HSE accountable.
It’s a massive job for whoever has the courage to take it on. However, I would not be holding my breath because – as we all know – when politics intervenes, a lot of the best-laid plans go out the window.
We can only live in hope. We have to keep trying until we get it right.