Wednesday 11 December 2019

Editorial: 'This state's broken health service fails our elderly'

'If we need extra beds in hospitals and better staffing levels, is that really so impossible to deliver?' Stock image
'If we need extra beds in hospitals and better staffing levels, is that really so impossible to deliver?' Stock image


Dignity can never be taken away, it has to be surrendered, they say. So have we as a State surrendered the dignity of our elderly by accepting the unacceptable in our health services?

It must have taken super-human effort for 90-year-old Ann Talty to struggle with her pain for 48 hours on a trolley in a crowded Limerick hospital. But she refused to give up her dignity - to her enduring credit, but our enduring shame.

The picture of the retired businesswoman bent over a chair is shattering. All that time she was coping with a fracture in her back.

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Anyone who doubts there is something broken in the way we manage our health system need look no further. But if you do need more evidence, figures released yesterday provide it in damning detail.

A record number of people have spent time on trolleys - in hospital emergency departments or on wards - this year.

According to the INMO, 108,364 people queued for a hospital bed at some stage.

The organisation's general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, noted winter had only just begun. "These statistics are the hallmark of a wildly bureaucratic health service which is failing staff and patients alike," she said.

Ann Noonan, a nurse at UHL, revealed staff "cannot cope" with the stress of working in constantly overcrowded conditions and are "leaving in droves". Dr Fergal Hickey, the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine's communications officer, is also deeply concerned: "This is really worrying. This has been a problem, we keep setting new records for crowding, records that we don't want."

Increased trolley numbers are now the norm, he added. Dr Hickey went on record before, citing studies conducted in Australia and elsewhere showing the mortality rate increases as a direct result of overcrowding.

"With Ireland's population at almost five million, the number of deaths would be in excess of 350 per year," he said.

For some undefined reason, the intolerable has become institutional in our hospitals.

As Health Minister Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wring their hands, the State once again signs off on another €500m supplement for a health budget already running to €17bn. How can so much money be spent and yet patients be so badly let down?

This is not "systems overload". No one is accountable in a "system". The "overload" is our elderly people: mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. They deserve better.

If we need extra beds in hospitals, better staffing levels and more community care, is that really so impossible to deliver?

If it is, then we have failed; worse, we will have surrendered.

Irish Independent

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