Saturday 25 May 2019

Varadkar’s attack on Christmas leave was directed at the wrong people

Editorial Comment

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's recent comments on Christmas holidays for medical staff leave a sour taste in mouth.

Now, to be fair to Mr Varadkar - a qualified doctor and former Health Minister whose partner is also a doctor - he knows more than most about Ireland's health service and its many notorious deficiencies.

That said, in effectively cancelling Christmas for the thousands of hard working front line staff, who work ludicrously long hours to keep the creaking system going, it's hard not to feel that the Taoiseach is laying the blame at the wrong door.

There can be little dispute about Mr Varadkar's argument that the health service - like any private business, a shop for example - should be fully staffed at peak times.

Christmas, and really winter in general, is the busiest period of the entire year in our hospitals with the dismal weather; flu epidemics and other winter ailments piling pressure on hospitals' already stretched resources.

Of course, it makes sense that all hands are on deck and that all back up services - like Radiography or blood testing labs - are up and running as normal.

However, Mr Varadkar's contention that in many cases vital support staff usually take Christmas off, appears to be seriously wide of the mark.

Since he made his comments scores of the expert medical professionals that run the support services and labs in hospitals right across the country have pointed out that they usually have little or no time off over the holiday period and are, in fact, normally much busier than usual.

These people - along with the doctors and nurses on the wards and the countless dedicated men and women in the gardaí and emergency services - don't get to enjoy Christmas the way the rest of us do. While we have our feet up after tucking in to our turkey dinner and opening our presents, they are working on the wards; patrolling the streets; putting out fires or saving lives on the seas.

They barely see their loved ones. They do it all to keep the rest of us safe and they don't complain. If anyone deserves a holiday it is them but unfortunately, because of the vocations they chose, they rarely ever get one.

Ireland's health service has been dysfunctional for as long as any of us can remember. It is a vast, seemingly bottomless, money pit that places a massive drain on the tax-payer with few obvious results.

None of that is the fault of the front line staff who work every hour God sends with little sign of appreciation from any of the people in charge.

As is the case with so many Government departments, the mantra in the Irish health service is to constantly strive to do more and more with less and less.

Cancelling holiday leave for doctors and nurses won't fix the endemic problems in the health service. Hiring more nurses and firing a few managers just might. Failing that, just saying thanks for all the hard work would be a start.

Enniscorthy Guardian