Dr Reilly simply has no cure for a sick health service

Join the queue, the doctor will see you in a year if you're lucky. That's the only advice from the HSE if you're one of the 178,000 people officially waiting for a consultant appointment at one of Ireland's increasingly dysfunctional hospitals.

It's yet another damning indictment of our scandalously sick health service -- and, sadly, there is little evidence that Dr James Reilly knows how to administer the right medicine.

When Reilly became health minister just over a year ago, he promised that reducing waiting lists would be one of his top priorities. He created a Special Delivery Unit (SDU) charged with targeting resources to ensure that nobody would be left in limbo for over a year by the end of 2011.


As the statistics published this week have shown, however, the figures are almost as bad as ever -- and since a number of large hospitals have yet to report, the true figure could be closer to 200,000.

Perhaps the problem is that we don't pay our consultants enough. After all, these are the people who were offered an insulting €250,000 salary by the last government and famously described it as "Mickey Mouse money".

Now the recession is biting, with just 30 doctors on VHI's books making over €500,000 last year and 3,000 receiving an average of just €86,000 each.

If you do make it into a hospital bed, don't expect too many visitors. At Beaumont this weekend, people are being urged not to come unless absolutely necessary due to an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug.

Brian Cowen called the Department of Health "Angola" because of all the landmines lying around. Reilly insisted that he was the man to dodge them. He came into office promising to dismantle the HSE and introduce universal health insurance by 2016.

While nobody can fault Reilly's ambition, his lack of results so far have led to grumbles that he is really a bit of a spoofer. The HSE is waiting to be put down, but it is far from clear how the Minister's proposed new system of seven directorates will be any improvement.

He performed a U-turn on the issue of prescription charges, his fake threat to withdraw medical cards made him a big loser in last December's Budget and the children's hospital plan is a total fiasco.

On Morning Ireland today, Dr Reilly's bedside manner was as brusque as ever. While he described the waiting list situation as "utterly unacceptable", it was glaringly obvious that he could not provide any date for when we can expect to see an improvement.

Like most ministers, he is still blaming his predecessor for all his woes -- but after a year in office, that excuse is starting to wear pretty thin.

This week's figures show one thing very clearly. No matter how much you streamline systems, it is hard to make any difference to waiting lists when your budgets are being consistently cut.

Reilly has already admitted that frontline services will be have to be reduced this year, which means that he is stuck in damage limitation mode.

It's hardly surprising that so many people are desperate to have private health insurance. Unfortunately, the rise in premiums means that up to 6,000 people are being forced to leave the market every month, which can only mean that our public hospitals will end up more swamped than ever.

Dr Reilly's prescription is having little effect. Maybe it's time to get a second opinion.