Friday 20 April 2018

People can't be blamed just for living

It is a grim philosophy that sees increasing numbers of the elderly as a cause for concern, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Eilis O'Hanlon

HEALTH Minister James Reilly is 58. Normally it wouldn't do to harp on about a gentleman's age, in case it gave him a complex about the passing of time. But he was the one who started it, by claiming at Fine Gael's recent think-in that there are too many older patients clogging up Irish hospitals. Or, as he put it more delicately: "We have a serious demographic issue to deal with. We have an ageing population, and older people tend to have more than one illness, and tend to be admitted for longer."

Which still doesn't sound much better, to be honest. A hundred years ago, a man of Dr Reilly's age would also have been considered hopelessly long in the tooth. That he now enjoys the benefits of living in an age when a man in his 50s is at the peak of his career, rather than struggling to remember his own name, is thanks directly to all those medical advances which extended life expectancy and, as a knock-on effect, swelled the ranks of those wrinklies who, by clinging on, limpet-like, to existence, are now being singled out for the fact the Department of Health may need another dig-out after overshooting its budget for the third year running. And by "may need", make that "will need ... and soon, or we'll have to start closing wards again".

It must be reassuring for an under-pressure minister to find such a convenient excuse why cash runs through his department's hands like grains of rice through a tennis racquet, rather than exploring his own inability to repair serious structural deficiencies in the health service.

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