Reform has become a matter of life and death
The fact that we can't rely on the health service shows that the public sector needs urgent reform, writes Brendan O'Connor
Let's, as they say in Tallaght Hospital, put the X-rays aside for the moment. Referral letters from GPs to hospitals are, as Muiris Houston put it on Friday, at the core of our health system. The way it works is quite simple. If your GP is worried that there may be something seriously wrong with you, they will refer you to a specialist. The GP will write a letter outlining their concerns, your symptoms, possibly including information you have not even been told yourself. Said letter, a fairly urgent letter you would imagine, is then sent to the hospital, and the idea is that you would get the consultation you urgently need as soon as possible.
In Tallaght Hospital a review discovered that such a letter goes through 20 stages before it results in a consultation. We now know that many of these urgent letters weren't even being opened. These were potentially matters of life and death, certainly, in many cases, of serious illness, and they were just being ignored.
To any of us who work in a normal business environment, even in areas far more trivial than the life-and-death matters dealt with by medics, the notion of thousands of letters piling up unopened is quite simply surreal. You even find yourself trying to visualise it. Were these thousands of letters piled up in a room somewhere? And were more and more of them dumped in there in wheelbarrows as they came in? And did everyone agree just to ignore these ticking time bombs, to never mention it as they walked around on a carpet that bulged with the urgent realities that had been swept under it?