Sunday 25 February 2018

Ireland's ailing health system criticised by US Ambassador

Shane Doran

US diplomats delivered a damning assessment of Ireland's ailing health system in leaked embassy cables.

Embassy officials based in Ireland repeatedly highlighted ongoing issues such as hospital overcrowding and A&E waiting times in dispatches to the US State Department in Washington.

And they warned visiting diplomats to be patient in the event of a medical emergency.

“Emergency room services tend to be oversubscribed; patients can expect waits up to 12 hours before being seen. It's not uncommon for persons treated in an emergency room or surrounding hallway,” one cable - dated January 2010 - said.

Similar warnings were repeated in a series of travel advisories sent to US diplomats visiting here.

In another dispatch, former US Ambassador James Kenny gave an extremely frank assessment of some of the major problems that continue to plague our health system.

Writing around the peak of the boom, in November 2005, the ambassador noted how Ireland's health sector “had not kept pace with the country's rapid economic rise”.

He commented our system had “several high-profile deficiencies, including, most visibly, long waiting times in hospital facilities”.

The ambassador also criticised Ireland public-private health care system.

He noted how our “mixed” system entitles the elderly and poorest “one third” of the population to free health services.

But he said the reality was that patients with private health insurance enjoy much speedier access to care and also have incentives to maximize their treatments in “subsidized public facilities”.

The cable adds: “Public hospitals often ring-fence up to 20 percent of beds for private use, even when uninsured patients on waiting lists have greater medical need.”

Ambassador Kenny also noted the health system suffers from “administrative confusion” between the Department of Health, which has responsibility for overall policy, and the Health Service Executive (HSE), which at the time controlled the government's €10bn health care budget.

The ambassador's comments were detailed in a dispatch to Washington reporting on Ireland's contingency plans in the event of an Avian Influenza, or bird flu, pandemic.

It was written two days after a meeting between embassy officials and Brian Mullen, then Principality officer for Community Health in the Department.


More WikiLeaks revelations in today’s Irish Independent:

- Young Irishman shot dead by Bolivian special forces was not linked to any US plot to kill the country’s president;

- Ireland-funded AIDS project at centre of major corruption scandal;

- Untold stories of Irish citizens locked up in foreign prisons.

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