Thursday 27 July 2017

Why I stand over my criticism of Minister Varadkar for taking a break

Jack Chambers

ANY organisation that makes an annual multi-billion euro investment would make sure to keep it moving effectively 365 days a year, 24 hours a day to get the maximum return.

It wouldn't let it dramatically wind down at one of the most critical times for the organisation's functions.

But that Christmas and New Year extended hiatus, when hospital activity was allowed virtually to stop, seems to me to be at the root of some of the pent-up mayhem that erupted this week.

Did hospitals fail to prepare this time - despite the lessons of previous years? In my medical education, I have worked in hospitals and have an insight into how they operate.

Similarly, the top boss of any such organisation wouldn't go on his holidays as the predictable crisis is reaching its peak. While everyone is entitled to holidays, you don't go when a storm is about to be unleashed.

So was it really wise for the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar to take a break in the Canaries, even for four days over the Christmas and New Year holiday? I have been taken to task for criticising him for doing so.

Everyone is entitled to a break and I acknowledge the ministerial workload - but surely the timing was wrong.

In my view the minister has shown a great error of judgment that smacks of arrogance.

The annual health bedlam that is the trolley crisis was about to reach its peak.

The apparent lack of a detailed and credible plan for the crisis in emergency departments means we are doomed to these annual quick-fixes and poor excuses as the January patient influx looms. It is not fair to patients, to families or to the health professionals, inside or outside hospitals, who have to deal with the stress.

One of the keys to this crisis has to be to make sure the health system does not go into virtual hibernation in advance of the most critical time for patients. As the minister has said, it is not all about beds, but these spikes in the system are predictable. Should the minister have spent more time at the wheel and ensured better advanced planning to ensure as many procedures and theatres continued to avoid the pent-up demand?

It is the elderly who sadly continue to bear the brunt of the trolley crisis.

Until the lack of more nursing homes in areas like north-west Dublin is tackled, local hospitals will continue to struggle.

Councillor Jack Chambers is Fianna Fáil's candidate in Dublin West.

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