Tuesday 25 October 2016

Leo has an impossible task in health... just like Martin and Roy's Ireland team

Gerard O'Regan

Published 05/09/2015 | 02:30

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

​Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane just might be able to tell Leo Varadkar a thing or two about trying to achieve the impossible - with resources that are simply way off the mark.

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Leo, back from his summer break looking tanned and refreshed on television this week, immediately ran into yet another maelstrom spawned by our beleaguered health service.

It seems that stratospheric amounts of cash will be required in the next few years, just to keep things more or less as they are. So what's new, the world weary might say. In any case, the amounts of money involved go over the heads of most people, given the millions of euro already needed, just to keep the show on the road.

But a bit like the Irish soccer team, hardly anybody seems to be content with the health care on offer. And as is the case with ​our​ put-upon Boys in Green, there are hurlers on the ditch, bar-room philosophers, plus pundits and experts by the new time, who have simple and easy solutions to fairly intractable problems.

Martin and Roy - just like Leo - are involved in a near nightmare task of trying to manage public expectations. But the sobering reality is that their team of journeymen are always on the back foot when trying to compete against any kind of quality opposition.

The signs are the current Euro campaign will end in tears - and then the knives will be out for the two boys. Martin's cool intelligence, and Roy's mercurial passions, will be no defence. The tide of public opinion will do them down in the end.

It's much the same story with Leo Varadkar - the latest gaffer we have put in charge of the health service.

Back in the day, we had Charlie Haughey dispensing free toothbrushes in a stream of publicity stunts, while biding his time for a heave at the Fianna Fáil leadership.

Brian Cowen was also in the health hot seat for a while, but didn't want to be there, while Micheál Martin won kudos with his smoking ban.

Mary Harne​y​, replete with all her performance management theories, came and went. So too did James Reilly, once bursting with ideas and schemes. They tipped away at the monolith - but at the end of the day, like so many before, it defeated them.

Leo, despite an aura of low-key optimism, seems just a little less gung-ho, than when he came into the job. Perhaps being a medical man makes him realise the near impossibility of it all.

We have, of course, analysed and examined the pros and cons, the foibles and fixations, of our health system ad nauseam. Yet its inner workings simply remain a complicated blur. And some questions - such as whether there are too many executive and management staff employed - remain unanswerable.

There are also obvious and much documented reasons why in real terms, the bill for our health service is shooting up every year. People are living longer, and all sorts of technological gadgetry has come on the scene to help treat various illnesses and ailments.

Such treatments can be expensive - in some cases stratospherically so. But what's the real price, of adding say two years to the life of somebody seriously ill, even though they will die sooner rather than later?

Other European countries are having their own problems funding health care. Across the water in Britain, there were also plenty of winter trolley stories in the much-vaunted NHS.

But perhaps the ultimate bottom line is that PAYE and other taxpayers are unwilling to pay any more to improve the current service. They want it "fixed" in some mysterious way but at no personal cost.

It would take a rare government - and very special Minister for Health - to tell us all some home truths about the real issues involved in looking after the old, the sick, and the dying, in 2015 and the years ahead.

That's not going to happen because it would require raw political courage - and in any case we have an election on the way.

In the meanwhile, those with the cash can use the likes of the VHI and other health insurers to try and jump the queue in their time of medical need. Everybody else must try and make do.

In that sense there is no 'solution'. The juggernaut will just trundle on.

Just as with Martin and Roy, the truth can't be told. So they must keep trundling.

Irish Independent

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