Leo ver­sus the nurses shows his miss­ing bed­side man­ner

For a guy who’s sup­posed to be a master of spin, the op­tics on Leo’s at­tack on health­worker hol­i­days are not great, writes Bren­dan O’Con­nor

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Comment -

YOU’D won­der if Leo felt the need to as­sert his straight-talk­ing, peo­ple­who-get-up-early-in-the­morn­ing cre­den­tials a bit last week. Peter Casey, of all peo­ple, seemed to have stolen Leo’s clothes in re­cent weeks, and there were mut­ter­ings that the Taoiseach for­merly known as ‘‘Tory Boy’’ had be­come too so­cial demo­crat.

For what­ever rea­son, Leo de­cided some straight-talk­ing was re­quired, a bit of good old-fash­ioned com­mon sense. And he prob­a­bly thought he was safe enough blam­ing ev­ery­thing on health pro­fes­sion­als. You could eas­ily judge that health pro­fes­sion­als are not the most pop­u­lar peo­ple around right now. There was a very sim­ple par­a­digm pre­sented around the Cer­vi­calCheck scan­dal that a pa­ter­nal­is­tic pa­tri­archy of doc­tors knew bet­ter than women did what was good for women. So misog­y­nis­tic were th­ese medics that they didn’t even give women in­for­ma­tion about their own health. So puffed-up demi-god medics are not flavour of the month in the ever-chang­ing court of out­rage-led pub­lic opin­ion. And, of course, you’re al­ways safe hav­ing a pop at the HSE. They were the ones who mis­man­aged it all. And then Tony O’Brien had the gall to come out last week and make it all about him.

And the politi­cians? They were the good guys, the ones who had to come in and clean it all up. Si­mon Har­ris, the mil­len­nial mes­siah who will not rest un­til he has de­liv­ered abor­tion by Jan­uary 1 whether the sys­tem and the GPs that are sup­posed to de­liver it are ready or not, was cen­tre stage in out­rage around Cer­vi­calCheck. He emoted all over any me­dia out­let that would have him, wrap­ping him­self firmly around the sur­vivors.

In gen­eral, young Si­mon is be­com­ing quite the PC prince who ticks all the right boxes. In one ra­dio out­ing last Wed­nes­day, he man­aged to men­tion mansplain­ing and also re­ferred to peo­ple man­ning, or wom­an­ning, phone­lines. Though per­haps the phrase he was look­ing for was ‘‘per­son­ning’’ the phones.

Leo had a bit of a false start on the emot­ing around Cer­vi­calCheck, seem­ing a bit cold at first, but he got the memo then, and joined in with gusto.

You might even spec­u­late that the lads thought they had dis­cov­ered a new par­a­digm for deal­ing with the on­go­ing slow car crash that is the never-end­ing health cri­sis in this coun­try. Blame it all on do-noth­ing docs and face­less of­fi­cials. For too long, they clearly de­cided, health min­is­ters have borne the brunt of be­ing held re­spon­si­ble for the health sys­tem in this coun­try.

From now on, blame would be ap­por­tioned where it be­longed, to over­paid health pro­fes­sion­als and their in­com­pe­tent man­agers.

So Leo de­cided to try it again by launch­ing a pre-emp­tive strike against the in­evitable hospi­tal cri­sis in early Jan­uary. And he pos­si­bly had a point when he said that at times of peak de­mand, or­gan­i­sa­tions should mar­shal all their re­sources. But he pos­si­bly mis­read how it would play.

Firstly, he seems to have for­got­ten that the Dail takes four weeks off and that the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem es­sen­tially shuts down at Christ­mas. He also seems to have for­got­ten that one in five of con­sul­tant posts in this coun­try lies va­cant, that there are hun­dreds of va­can­cies for nurses in the A&E sys­tem alone, that the pri­mary health­care and GP sys­tem is on the verge of col­lapse in many parts of the coun­try, and that’s be­fore the GPs start do­ing abor­tions as well.

He pos­si­bly for­got as well that the health ser­vice will have over­spent by €700m in 2018, which most peo­ple find mind-bog­gling.

Next year, the State will spend €17bn on health, which is about €3,500 for every man, woman and child in the coun­try. That means that if you are a fam­ily of four, about €14,000 of your taxes goes on health, and you pos­si­bly pay for health in­sur­ance on top of that.

Our health spend ac­tu­ally dwarfs, for ex­am­ple, our ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing. When you take in to­tal ex­pen­di­ture on health in Ire­land, the OECD says it’s ac­tu­ally €4,700 per head of pop­u­la­tion. And, right or wrong, peo­ple feel that for that kind of money, we might ex­pect a func­tion­ing health ser­vice.

But most of all Leo seems to have mis­read the sen­ti­ment on this one. This wasn’t your usual easy doc­tor-de­mon­is­ing. It’s one thing to paint a pic­ture of oily, high-earn­ing demi-god con­sul­tants hit­ting the golf cour­ses of Por­tu­gal or go­ing for brac­ing walks in Round­stone fol­lowed by hot tod­dies as they spend early Jan­uary laugh­ing jovially about the ple­beian pa­tients they have to deal with.

But when most peo­ple think of hos­pi­tals at Christ­mas, we think of har­ried but saintly nurses, strug­gling ju­nior docs who haven’t slept in 24 hours. We think of the end­less pa­tience and kind­ness that most of us ex­pe­ri­ence, even in chaotic hospi­tal en­vi­ron­ments. We think of peo­ple who go above and beyond in im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tions to make it feel a bit more like Christ­mas for sick chil­dren. We think of grace un­der pressure, of hu­man­ity main­tained even in im­pos­si­ble cir­cum­stances. We think of times when we our­selves were at our most vul­ner­a­ble and afraid, and we think of the ten­der­ness and re­as­sur­ance we were of­fered. We think of peo­ple who do jobs most of us would not have the pa­tience or the stamina to do.

So to con­jure some daft no­tion of nurses off sun­ning them­selves in Bar­ba­dos while bed­lam reigns in the wards in early Jan­uary prob­a­bly came across like a cheap shot.

There are very few no­ble vo­ca­tions left in the world. Priests and cops and even teach­ers have all fallen off their pedestals to vary­ing de­grees. But nurses, and many docs, es­pe­cially younger ones, are still re­garded, whether they them­selves like it or not, as not just be­ing in it for the money or the ca­reer. And in the world we live in, where self­ish­ness is the de­fault po­si­tion work­wise, we have huge ad­mi­ra­tion for those with a real vo­ca­tion.

For a priv­i­leged man like Leo to seem to lay the blame for the prob­lems of the health ser­vice at the door of th­ese peo­ple, who do so much for other peo­ple’s fam­i­lies, want­ing to spend time with their own fam­i­lies, struck a bum note.

The thing is that Varad­kar prob­a­bly had a point. But his beef is not with the staff them­selves, but with the peo­ple who man­age the re­sources.

And per­haps he should have pre­sented the holiday is­sue not as the sole cause of Jan­uary may­hem, but as one fac­tor of many that could be looked at by man­age­ment.

Maybe what Leo needed on this one was just a slightly bet­ter bed­side man­ner.

‘Leo launched a pre-emp­tive strike against the in­evitable hospi­tal cri­sis’

MISDIAGNOSIS: Leo Varad­kar should be con­cen­trat­ing on the peo­ple who man­age HSE re­sources

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.