Sunday 25 September 2016

Rude health: Minister minister - Enda Kenny should appoint a minister for junior ministers

A minister for junior ministers is a glaring omission from Enda, says Maurice Gueret, as he rolls up Hillary's sleeve

Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30

New Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
New Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Maurice Gueret.

I have no idea how young Simon Harris will go down in the pantheon of Irish health ministers, but as 'minister for buying time' he may have no equal. Barely out of the short pants, Simon's grand plans for an all-party Oireachtas committee seeking consensus on healthcare is cunning in the extreme. This will kick moaning cans a few years down the road, share the load equally among the inept, and take the focus off the fact that his party failed dismally to fulfil the promising universal insurance plans they were elected to implement in 2011.

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But any goodwill there might have been towards a fresh face at Health evaporated fairly quickly when a ludicrous posse of four junior ministers was appointed to join him around the press-release machine. Ireland now has separate ministers for health, social protection, children, disabilities, health promotion, drugs, older people and mental health.

In bygone days, one chap did the whole lot for a couple of hundred pounds a year. And before the last war, he juggled the brief of local government into the bargain.

Bets are on as to what might come next. A new minister for alcohol might have things to say about the two pubs in Leinster House. A minister for hypochondria might tell us that health services are actually fine, and all the complaints we make are actually in our heads.

I think Enda should appoint a minister for junior ministers. With so many young lads and lassies running around waving €120,000 salary cheques, not to mention expenses, they surely need a separate department full of six-figure advisors who can counsel them on how to spend it.

A minister for influenza could be useful, too. We are just two years out from the hundredth anniversary of the Spanish Flu, and one never knows when another nasty strain is around the corner. The Great Flu wiped out 20,000 lives on this island alone. I was writing recently about various treatments that were tried, and some of you wrote to tell me of others.

Thomas in Kildare knew an old Carlow man, Bill Burgess of Tobinstown, who was born in 1902. He features in Turtle Bunbury's Vanishing Ireland and remembered the Spanish Flu. He said that Doctor Kidd of Rathvilly recommended whiskey. Bill's sister survived the flu, but it took her two years to get back her weight and strength. His brother Vivian died on the family farm at the age of 20, and very few people attended his funeral for fear of contagion.

In the same book, Nellie O'Toole, born in 1908, gives an account of the flu in Rathvilly. She recalls that her brother was beating his head against the wall. Soup was delivered in churns by horse-and-carriage to the people of Rathvilly from the local Big House, the Rathdonnells of Lisnavagh.

I also had an email from a man who grew up in Castleisland in Kerry not knowing any grandparents on his father's side. He found out why in the local graveyard. Looking at the family headstone, he found that his grandmother and both of her parents all died within three weeks of each other in late October/early November of 1918.

As a result, his aunt, who was a young girl at the time, took on the role of mother to his five uncles and one other aunt, while also running a shop in the town. The family rented a room in the house to an RIC officer prior to the Troubles in 1920, and he now regrets that he never spoke to his aunt prior to her death in the 1980s about the flu that was rampant at the time.

Kerry didn't have that many soldiers fighting away in the Great War, so the first wave of influenza was a bit slower to arrive there in the summer of 1918. But when it did, it was quite virulent and the county was hit hard. In her book The Last Irish Plague, historian Dr Caitriona Foley wrote about petty court sessions being suspended in the county because of fears of people coming to court "fresh from houses infected with Influenza". The fear of 'infected houses' runs deep in Irish lore and in times past, especially during cholera epidemics, houses would be broken down and burned to the ground with the fever victims still inside. And for many years, and sometimes generations afterwards, children would be warned by their parents not to pick berries from the vicinity of such houses. If you have any interesting family stories of the Great Flu, please do write to me at PO Box 5049, Dublin 6w, or email mgueret@imd.ie

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Three weeks ago, we looked at the health of Donald Trump, declared by his own doctor as the man who may prove to be the healthiest US president in history. Well, today it's the turn of my distant cousin, Hillary Clinton, to lie on the couch. Now, I would never dream of treating a relative, so I have to rely on information already in the public arena to afford Mrs Clinton her Rude Health check-up.

Medication is a good place to start. Like me, Hillary takes a daily dose of hormone pills. In fact, she takes the same type of pills as I do. We cousins share a rare enough glandular condition called hypothyroidism which causes fatigue, weight gain, puffy face and sluggish metabolism.

Until we get treated, that is, which is when we all turn into handsome, go-getter, fantastically-fit, globe-changing icons of world renown. Another of Hilla's medications are throat lozenges to suppress that raspy voice and tendency to fits of coughing during public speeches. But her most significant medication is warfarin, which she has been taking for three years to prevent clots, following a serious fall at her home in 2012. We need to seriously talk more about Hillary's health. More next week.

Dr Maurice Gueret is editor of the 'Irish Medical Directory'

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