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Gerry O'Carroll: A&E crisis shows that our stricken health service is still off its trolley


Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

Christy Burke.

Christy Burke.

Brendan O'Carroll.

Brendan O'Carroll.




Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

In 2006 the then Minister for Health Mary Harney TD was forced to admit that the grim situation our accident and emergency units across the country had reached crisis levels.

Some 495 people were on trolleys in hospitals. She declared this a national emergency.

Fast forward to December 16 last. Some 499 patients were waiting on trolleys in our A&E units - higher than the number back in 2006.

The worsening situation in our A&E units has so alarmed frontline medical staff that the Irish Nurses and Midwives' Organisation has called on the Government to declare the crisis a national emergency.

It is a shameful indictment of our woefully dysfunctional health system that, as 2014 draws to a close, the situation in A&E units is now worse than it was eight years ago.

This week it was reported that the National Director of Acute Hospitals, Dr Tony O'Connell, wrote to the CEOs of the country's major hospitals about this very issue. Dr O'Connell warned in the starkest terms about the situation, voicing his "very serious concern".

He also warned that peak periods, where patient numbers are at their highest, were likely to be especially difficult in January.

It's hardly a secret as to why this is. Our A&E units are understaffed and under-resourced. In many cases this results in patients waiting for hours and days on trolleys to be seen by stressed and tired medical staff.

Experts have expressed their fears for public safety as this situation persists.

On-time Health Minister Brian Cowen infamously compared the Department of Health to 'Angola'. When one of his successors, Mary Harney, was appointed she pledged that she would reform the health service.

She promised to end the trolley scandal. Of course her plans ended in abject failure. One of her successors, Dr James Reilly, came in amid great expectations, given his GP background. More reform talk, followed by more disappointment.

And now another doctor's come in to have a look at the patient, this time Dr Leo Varadkar (above). He's made statements on reform, like all his predecessors have. It remains to be seen how he will fare when it comes to tackling the disgraceful trolley scandal.

Will he herald in a new era? Or, after six months in the job, and in the wake of Dr O'Connell's letter, is he set to be the next politician to join the long list of also-rans in this benighted ministry?

Are we witnessing the birth of a new party?

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as the old adage goes.

I was reminded of this when I learned that the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Christy Burke is considering joining with turf-cutting Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice to form a new political party.

Burke has added his name to the growing ranks of, as yet unnamed, potential candidates under Fitzmaurice's banner.

The north inner city mainstay spoke in glowing terms this week of Fitzmaurice, the TD elected to replace Luke Ming Flanagan in Roscommon-South Leitrim.

He spoke of him as a man with the "human touch", who is "in touch with the people".

I agree. Michael Fitzmaurice, his straight views and plain-talking manner, has come across in recent months as a breath of fresh air.

This man of the soil has gained more than a few admirers and it's been reported that he's planning to run up to 25 candidates under his movement in the next General Election.

This proposed political venture is indeed an exciting prospect.

And with Christy Burke's endorsement ringing in his ears it's clear that Fitzmaurice has vital city support as well as that of country people.

Are we witnessing the birth of something new here? It certainly looks so. And could this alliance be the end of the longstanding urban-rural divide in Irish politics? That could be likely to.

Either, from Summerhill to South Leitrim, there could be interesting times ahead.

Here's to a happy and healthy New Year

THERE'S not many more hours left before we consign 2014 to history.   

And as we count down to the birth of the New Year it is only natural that we look back to the high and lows of the past 12 months.

We remember the great joyous family occasions like births, marriages and birthdays. And of course we also remember sadder times, the loss and desolation of losing loved ones.       

Each New Year's Eve truly makes for bitter-sweet revelry, but it's a revelry we must all endure. However, tonight let us be optimistic for the future and thankful for small mercies. Here we all are, we have survived another year, we are still standing.      

Tonight I'll celebrate the coming of the New Year as I always do, in the company of my family. We'll stay at home, relax and enjoy each other's company.     

I hope all Herald readers have an enjoyable evening, with family, with friends, however you like to usher in the New Year.      And may all your troubles be few and your happy moments many. Here's to a good 2015.



BRENDAN O'Carroll is laughing all the way to the bank. Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie got a drubbing from critics but has grossed €3.8m at the Irish box office this year. Despite the humourless begrudgery - an Irish disease - Mrs Brown had a great 2014, with the show being sold all over the world, creating €18.3m globally. No critic can argue with those numbers.



THE NURSING and Midwifery Board of Ireland has decided to hike its registration fee for nurses by 50pc. This is a high-handed and insensitive action, particularly in times of ongoing austerity. We cannot do without nurses and we should treat them fairly - whacking an extra charge like this on them a week after Christmas is out of order.