Thursday 20 June 2019

Despite a new energy plant, our failing health system leaves the Coalition looking powerless

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: cut ribbon on Great Island power plant
Taoiseach Enda Kenny: cut ribbon on Great Island power plant

Lise Hand

It was a good-news story that brought the Taoiseach, and what he jokingly pointed out was "a quarter of the Government", to the (sort-of) sunny south-east yesterday.

He and a murmuration of ministers (Alex White, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Paudie Coffey) were cutting the ribbon on SSE's €350m Great Island power plant, just outside New Ross.

There was a tour of the shiny new facility, and a choir, a three-course repast and lots of upbeat speeches about the recovering economy. "This is a great day for the south-east, it's the largest green energy-producing plant in Europe," proclaimed Enda.

The event should've been all positive vibrations about how massive investments like the power plant are further proof that the country is on the fast track out of its plod through the Slough of Despond.

But there is one large issue which looms over this Government, casting a shadow even bigger than two chimneys towering over the Wexford site.

And that's the pall caused by the country's health system, riven with myriad failures to protect and preserve the vulnerable, the sick and expectant mothers.

The Taoiseach was faced with questions relating to revelations on Thursday evening's 'Prime Time' that 67 'extreme incidents' were recorded in Ireland's maternity hospitals last year which led to permanent incapacity or death, along with three further cases rated as 'major'.

The Taoiseach made no excuses - indeed there isn't a single excuse which wouldn't ring hollow with the traumatised and grieving families affected by these cases, or with the general public rattled by the litany of troubling stories.

He hadn't seen the RTÉ programme, but he had heard that "some truly harrowing cases" were outlined.

"This is unacceptable in any circumstances," he stated. "I regret that these kinds of incidents happened, but it's important that we know that they do happen and that they can be dealt with in a way that patients be central and a first priority for the health system," he added. "Clearly, Hiqa have now begun to do unannounced inspections and set out in a completely objective and independent way the standards that should apply."

It was ironic that while it's possible to overcome all sorts of obstacles in the construction of a state-of-the-art plant to power over half a million Irish homes, it seems beyond the abilities of any agency in the land to provide one of the other basic needs of the nation - affordable, accountable and fully functioning healthcare.

For every step forward the Government takes in relation to a recovering economy, time and again it gets dragged backwards by some new appalling setback involving the health system.

In the past few days alone, the HSE has settled an action for damages arising from the death of a Donegal mother over failures to diagnose her breast cancer; a Hiqa report found "major" failings at a residential care centre in Co Louth; and two women aged over 100 were forced to spend more than 24 hours on trolleys. Moreover, the number of people on hospital trolleys hit a record high last month.

Before he left the new power plant, the Taoiseach admitted the 'Prime Time' revelations show there are "lessons to be learned and improvements to be made".

But how? And when? The Government has oodles of energy when it comes to fixing the economy. But when faced with finding a cure for our sick health system, it seems to be powerless.

Irish Independent

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