Tuesday 12 December 2017

Crisis is a political football – but real victims are the patients suffering on trolleys

Health Minister Simon Harris speaking to the media after his emergency task force meeting at Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Health Minister Simon Harris speaking to the media after his emergency task force meeting at Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The overcrowding problem in our hospitals is wrong. Sick people should not be forced to lie helplessly on trolleys in cramped hospital wards while they wait for treatment.

They should not be lined up in packed corridors or wedged into wards already full to capacity.

If you are in hospital, more often than not it is because you are at the most vulnerable stage of your life and the last thing you need is to be put on public display.

Sick and frail older people should not be left stranded in their homes because they fear going into hospital after hearing horror stories from their friends and family members.

Working parents should not be left for hours, if not days, stranded in emergency departments waiting to have their children seen by a doctor. Patients should also not be left waiting three hours in the back of an ambulance as it queues outside hospital.

After six days of seeing the frightening condition of our hospital wards on our television screens and in our newspapers, everyone agrees the patients were the big losers this week.

At the same time, doctors and nurses should not be forced to weave in and out between trolleys for the duration of their 12, 24 or even 48-hour shifts.

They should have time to listen to patients and diagnose their problems. Instead, they look out on to their hospital wards and despair at the unworkable backlog of patients. Nurses and doctors want the time and resources to give patients the best treatment possible.

They also want better pay and conditions for the hard work they are doing. The same goes for workers in every profession the world over.

The difference between nurses, doctors and indeed all public sector workers, is that they are about to sit down with their employers - the Government - to discuss their next pay hike. On December 15, the Irish Nurse and Midwives Organisation (INMO) voted in favour of industrial action.

INMO general secretary Liam Doran wants better working conditions and financial incentives for his members.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents the majority of the country's doctors, will soon enter negotiations on the redrafting of the Government's contract with GPs. Naturally, GPs will demand more subsidies and resources, especially if they are expected to sign up to Fine Gael's plan to introduce free medical care for all children.

Meanwhile, hospital consultants are currently locked in a legal battle with Health Minister Simon Harris over pay increases.

Everyone else working in the public health sector will have to wait until Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe begins talks on a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

These negotiations are likely to begin next summer, and you can bet your house that they will result in pay increases for public sector workers.

But is that going to solve the overcrowding problem in our hospitals?

Medical professionals, experts and politicians have all said the trolley backlog is due to a lack of capacity in our hospitals, so we need more beds.

If we get more beds, we will also need more nurses and doctors in the wards to provide quality care for the extra patients.

All of this is vitally necessary - but as with most things in life, it comes with a financial cost, and someone has to pay for it.

If unions representing doctors and nurses have their way and their members' pay is increased significantly by the Government, then the cost of hiring more of them will also increase drastically.

This might seem like an overly simplified way of looking at the options faced by the Government, but they will have to find a balance between hiring more health staff and increasing pay.

There is also the added complication of trying to attract workers here with better pay.

The trolley crisis played into the hands of union chiefs - in that it showed the public the conditions their members have to work under. And no one would deny them a pay increase.

But the real victims of the overcrowding scandal are the patients left in the undignified situation of lying on a hospital trolley while they go through a horrible medical trauma you would never wish on anyone.

The union bosses have a responsibility to remember this when they sit down to negotiate.

Irish Independent

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