Friday 17 January 2020

Editorial: 'More Warnings, apologies won't fix this health crisis'

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins


There are good reasons why success can generally remain silent whereas failure requires meticulously itemised accounts.

But no matter how detailed the stories of over-crowding and under-staffing within our hospitals become, we still retain an unerring capacity to do worse.

According to new figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), the overcrowding figures for 2019 were the highest on record - 118,367 patients were left waiting for a bed.

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General secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha blames rigid recruitment controls for "starving" the health service of the staff it desperately needs.

In a somewhat startlingly obtuse defence, the Department of Health has insisted no national recruitment embargo exists.

It does note, however, the Health Service Executive is obliged to maintain affordable staffing levels.

So there is no actual official ban on taking people on; it is just that there is no money to do so.

Precisely how much comfort patients coping with the indignity of being ill while lying on a trolley will take from this clarification is difficult to gauge.

The HSE offers further assurance claiming it will be investing in additional primary care and home support staff in 2020.

Increases in attendances have been driven up by high flu levels and pent-up demand over the Christmas period. But given that Christmas arrives at the end of every year, as does the flu, this can hardly be regarded as exceptional. "Things are getting worse, not better," says the INMO.

What is even more worrying is that where we were once conditioned to accept the unacceptable as a short seasonal anomaly; the intolerable is at risk of becoming the new normal.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha is rightly outraged that thousands more patients are forced to do without proper beds at one of the most vulnerable points in their lives. What was a winter problem, is now an all-year problem, which just gets worse in winter, the INMO argues.

Although the population is expanding and becoming older; there are 411 fewer inpatient beds in Ireland's hospitals today than a decade ago.

Nor is there anything complex about the solution, as has been spelled out in countless reports.

More beds, extra staff, an expansion of community care, allied with the implementation of Sláintecare, would go a long way towards easing the hardship for patients and staff.

Health Minister Simon Harris recognises that things are at a critical point.

He seems to take solace in the fact the flu season may be peaking, and numbers should ease.

But on January 4, 2017, he warned the country's hospitals are facing into a "very challenging time" due to a flu outbreak.

While on January 4, 2018, after it was reported 592 people were left waiting on trolleys across the country, Mr Harris issued an apology.

We don't need more warnings or apologies: we need improvements, but might even settle for evidence things will not continue to get worse.

Irish Independent

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