Saturday 17 August 2019

Eilish O'Regan: 'The real harm patients suffer from strikes can be hidden'


(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Hospital strikes harm patients - and much of the impact isn't immediately obvious.

A patient who was booked in for a scope to investigate if they have cancer which gets cancelled can end up with a delayed diagnosis, for example.

And waiting-list patients who have already been in the queue for up to two years, whose surgery was postponed yesterday, will face a gap of many weeks before having their operation.

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Our hospitals already have little freedom to promptly reschedule such a high volume of cancelled procedures.

Patients with priority will be seen first, but others will find that they are again put on hold.

A lack of staff can mean a greater risk of infection and over-stretched doctors - who were yesterday acting as cleaners and meal servers, too - are in danger of failing to spot a deteriorating patient.

There are many potential risks which were posed to patients by yesterday's withdrawal of labour by 10,000 support staff, the hidden army which is so essential to maintaining services.

It is the kind of blow that has delivered another setback to our struggling hospitals.

Three days of strike action by nurses earlier this year left a backlog of thousands of patients whose appointments were axed.

The knock-on impact on outpatient waiting lists is still being felt, with 556,411 people needing to see a specialist.

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of a pay claim, patients are the vulnerable pawns when it comes to industrial action in the health service.

Families and hospital administrative staff stepped in to do some of the tasks normally provided by the strikers in many hospitals, helping to care for and feed patients.

But there were still problems in providing all patients with a ready supply of water, hot meals, a cup of tea, cleaning and infection control.

The HSE's own figures showed there were 310 patients on trolleys in hospital emergency departments yesterday - up 16pc on the same day last year.

While reports suggested more patients stayed away, to avoid being caught up in mayhem caused by the strike, the typical pattern is that there will be a surge in attendances in the coming days.

It makes it even more important that a resolution must be found and quickly, so as to avoid the threatened three-day strike next week.

It goes without saying that the longer a hospital is functioning in strike mode, the more likely it is to deliver sub-standard outcomes for patients.

Dedicated staff who were on the picket lines yesterday will no doubt be working doubly hard today to catch up.

Withdrawing labour goes against their sense of duty and care for patients.

But the potential adverse impact the action has already had on some patients must also be acknowledged.

Irish Independent

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