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Friday, November 23, 2007

Harney's not the only one should quit

Of course, Mary Harney should quit as Minister for Health with immediate effect. Her performance in the role has been little short of diabolical.

But it is worth recalling, as 97 more women fret about their cancer results, that there is a concept often cited by our Teflon Taoiseach known as collective cabinet responsibility.

They're all responsible for this mess we call a health service. All of them. Some of them are particularly responsible. Some of them, you could say, are more responsible than others.

On this list from the Department of Health, you can see that the two front runners to replace Bertie Ahern as Fianna Fail leader (and de facto Taoiseach of the nation) are BOTH former health ministers.

It is worth remembering how Micheal Martin, as health minister, commissioned over 200 reports which were not subsequently acted on while simultaneously robbing nursing home patients of up to €2 billion which the state had to pay back.

The senior civil servant in the Department said that he had told Micheal Martin about this scandal and had even given him the file in Martin's office. Martin denied this utterly. The file has never been found since, needless to say. Martin remains a cabinet minister. The civil servant moved sideways to the Higher Education Authority.

Brian Cowen, who charmingly called the Department of Health 'Angola', due to the amount of political landmines to be found underfoot, was also Minister for Health for three years. His time in Hawkins House is notable by its lack of anything notable. He didn't do a thing, tiptoeing around hoping no bombs went off until he could scamper for the safety of another Department.

If you were to believe some people, the Irish health system is permanently a wreck, unfixable and always was. This is nonsense.

A potted history of Irish health would run something like this:

The churches ran health provision forever, then the state, having missed the opportunity to create a National Health Service like the UK have, finally and belatedly intervened and the health boards were created in 1970.

Things remained okay for a while, then Charles Haughey slashed a quarter of all hospital beds, because we all had to tighten our belts.

Since then, those beds, that infrastructure, has never been replaced, while the population has exploded. In the Eighties, the scandals began. Organ retentions, blood infections, the lies, the spin. This was the period when the administrators came to power in health. But at least they were monitored by public representatives on the health boards.

When Mary Harney rationalised the health boards into the HSE, in itself not a bad idea, she made two massive errors. Firstly, she eradicated the ability of people to be elected to monitor the administrators. All of a sudden, no one was watching the watchmen.

Then she vowed that no jobs would be lost. The result was that we now have up to eight times as many health administrators as are needed, most aren't doing anything to justify their salaries, and none of them can be sacked.

This led directly to scandals varying from the millions upon millions spent on IT projects that either didn't work or didn't exist to the fact that neither Harney nor her overpaid mudguard Brendan Drumm even knew about the 97 more women whose cancer tests were wrong until yesterday.

By all means, by any means necessary, Mary Harney should quit with immediate effect. Her poodle Drumm, the €400,000 man, must also go.

But so should those who share collective cabinet responsibility for this unholy mess costing Irish lives. I'd start with Martin and Cowen, who have both directly contributed to the ongoing horror. But I wouldn't end there.

Ahern himself interfered in the decision of where to place the national children's hospital by making public statements, with the result that it went to the Mater, in his constituency, and his former employer.

Cullen ensured that Waterford would not get public radiotherapy but a privatised system instead. He even turned the sod on the site of their private hospital for them.

The entire cabinet share responsibility for the beleaguered state of our health service. If any one of them had a single shred of honour, they'd leave now.


Anonymous said...

Well, how about the radiologist who made all the awful mistakes in the first place? She's been suspended on full pay - why aren't we crying out for her to resign?

There's such a bad history of doctors covering up medical negligence in this country, that we never seem to blame the health professionals but "the system".

Well at the bottom of it all, there's a health professional responsible for all this suffering and there hasn't been a hint of an apology so far. Possibly because you never admit blame when you're a doctor - it's always someone else's fault.

JC Skinner said...

What awful mistakes? The fucking equipment was faulty because it was ancient. It was ancient because there was no money to replace it, even though radiologists had WARNED the HSE that it had to be replaced.
So, the doctors aren't to blame on this one, sunshine.
Harney's 'reform' programme of privatisation and cutbacks is responsible.

Anonymous said...

There you go - there's always someone to blame before a doctor holds her hands up. It's never their fault in this country, never. The doctors are caring and the nurses are angels and the HSE is a big bad monster that gobbles up the taxpayers' money.

If you've ever been on the wrong end of medical malpractice - and I have - you'll see how much health professionals give a damn.

And don't call me sunshine.

JC Skinner said...

Give me a name to call you then, sunshine.
If the equipment was faulty and the radiographers had warned the HSE about it, how is it their fault, especially when they are the ones who uncovered the fault?

Missing Neighbour said...

Nice Post JC. This is this sort of shit that used to annoy the hell out of me when I lived in the Republic. Basically the vast majority of the populace don't give a flying fuck about anything as long as their pay raise is way above inflation and they can continue to afford life little luxuries (and I say this as a person who worked in a very lucrative profession for the largest financial company in the land. Nothing will be done about any of the oustanding social issues in Ireland until me and Ms average start to feel the pinch.

Missing Neighbour said...

Apologies for the typos.

Bock the Robber said...

A shred of honour? In our government?

Mr Skinner! Heaven forfend!

The Knitter said...

...Mary Harney just popped out of a hole in the ground. Just like this debacle in the hospitals. Everything was grand until all this "popping out of holes" started.