Health, building and media – industry experts on where we’re heading in 2017
Leading figures in some of Ireland’s biggest employment sectors tell Eilish O’Regan their hopes for this year
Tony Hanway, ceo of Virgin Media Ireland
My 2016: The Irish economic recovery is continuing with consumer spending growing and continued gains in the number of people in employment. We work in an exciting sector that is instrumental in enabling consumers and businesses to fully participate in the digital revolution.
Many people in the larger urban areas take high speed broadband for granted but in many towns there is a still a wide digital divide. I found it very motivational to feel the positive vibe as we continue to connect Irish homes and businesses to super-fast broadband because it reminded me that our products make a huge positive difference to communities right across Ireland.
Hopes for 2017: My hopes relate to the macro side. Our world is an increasingly crowded and fractious place, therefore it’s essential our political and business leaders show their joint resolve to meet the myriad challenges we face through good judgment and ethical decision-making.
I passionately believe there is a clear majority of people who realise we are all increasingly inter-dependent, so in 2017 lets demonstrate conviction that co-operation and goodwill is our best option for a sustainable future.
Professor Martin Cormican, consultant microbiologist, Galway University Hospitals/Prof of Bacteriology at NUI Galway School of Medicine
My 2016: For many people, the big infection story of the year was the Zika virus and the link with brain damage in infants of mothers infected during pregnancy. On February 1 2016, the Zika virus outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation.
A much bigger infection story of 2016 in terms of the number of people harmed is the continuing global epidemic spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and of DNA fragments that carry resistance. In 2016, this problem was considered by the General Assembly of the United Nations but action continues to be too little and too late as new forms of antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge and spread, facilitated by poverty, poor sanitation and poor infection control in a global village awash with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of antibiotics.
Hopes for 2017: We need pandemic antibiotic-resistant bacteria including drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and carbapenem-resistant gut bacteria (CPE) to be considered a public health emergency of international concern in 2017. Unlike Zika or Ebola, spread happens below the radar. Life-threatening disease may not happen for months or years. Hospitals, clinics and nursing homes facilitate early spread. Later, they are everywhere in the community, in food and in the environment.
The effects of pandemic antibiotic-resistant bacteria have already been grave and will become worse. Control is a daunting and continuing challenge but that is a poor reason not to face it head on in 2017.
Caroline Spillane, director general of Engineers Ireland
My 2016: The UK’s decision to leave the European Union colours every aspect of Ireland’s economic future, and the associated uncertainty is already affecting the business activity of our members. Nonetheless a sample survey of 3,000 of our member engineers in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and the GB region in late October showed that the sector is robust and resourceful, with organisations already adapting to the new Brexit business reality.
And 40pc said they were proactively changing their business strategy to adapt to the new economic reality of Brexit, with most respondents optimistic that the major impact of Brexit will not be felt for several years.
Engineers Ireland works with engineering firms and employers to reach a special CPD-accredited employer standard to ensure the standard of the work from member Irish engineering firms is of the highest calibre.
Hopes for 2017: The Government’s renewed focus on the importance of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) in schools, as evident in the recent publication of the STEM Education Review Group report, is encouraging. We need to increase competence in STEM and set targets for take-up. A solid grounding in STEM is naturally beneficial to a career in engineering. We particularly welcome that amongst the initial 21 actions, will be the introduction of computer science (including coding), as a Leaving Certificate subject.
We’re also excited about our Engineers Week nationwide programme from March 4-10, supported by SFI, which highlights STEM and celebrates the exciting world of engineering in Ireland.
Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital
My 2016: I am very lucky to work in a hospital that sees so many new lives coming safely in to the world. Birth is so universal and so fundamental. Every day here is extraordinary. The birth of a healthy baby is a wonderful gift. Equally, the loss of a baby a terrible tragedy.
For me, the highlight must therefore be the safe delivery of 9,000 babies into the world at the hospital during 2016. The other big highlight was the agreement that finally paves the way for the development of a new National Maternity Hospital on the campus of St Vincent’s Hospital at Elm Park.
Hopes for 2017: I hope to see the planning application lodged, which will be another major step towards this goal for women and infants in Ireland.
Over the two decades of my working career, I have seen many advances in maternity care and going into a new year it is very exciting to look to the future and imagine how outcomes might further be improved by advancing technology.
More generally, every day 25 to 30 babies leave the National Maternity Hospital to all kinds of different circumstance. I hope their world will be kind and tolerant and that it will foster their unique potential.
Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland
My 2016: My highlight of the year was at last feeling like what an investigative journalist must feel like when they eventually find the information they have been seeking. Nursing Homes Ireland had spent five years trying to prise out of the HSE the costs of care in their public nursing homes.
I was up every hill and down every dale, got parliamentary questions asked, issued press releases, asked at Oireachtas Committees, badgered journalists to ask, went everywhere trying to get it out of them.
Eventually, the HSE relented and published it in October. The reason for not publishing for five years became clear – in some instances, the HSE pays its nursing homes up to seven times the amount payable in respect of residents in the private and voluntary nursing homes. It at last made sense as to why the great secret for five years. Now the Public Accounts Committee is investigating so I am pleased with that.
Hopes for 2017: My wish for 2017 is that we get a proper plan for addressing the care requirements of our ageing demographics, recognising the key role of the private and voluntary nursing home sector as partners. If the euphemistic can has been kicked down the road once, it has happened 100 times for older people.
Instead of kicking the can, it is now the older people who feel the kick as acute hospitals aren’t able to cope with the increase in our ageing population.
For once and for all in 2017, we should try to develop an integrated plan across the system, with everybody involved at the table, not just the unions and Health Service Executive.