Anne Marie McNally: When Sorry Rings Hollow


From top: Emma Mhic Mhathúna on The Late Late Show last Friday; Anne Marie McNally

On this morning’s commute I was listening to a Dua Lipa tune and one lyric in particular struck me and immediately brought Emma Mhic Mhathúna, and the many other women to mind.

The lyric goes ‘You say you’re sorry, but it’s too late now, so save it, get gone, shut up..’ and I just thought, how utterly appropriate. All the sorrys in the world cannot right the wrongs perpetrated against these women and their families but as we know from previous scandals in this country, sometimes a sorry can be hugely important.

When Enda took to his feet in the Dáil that day to apologise to the Magdalene women it was a powerful moment.

However this current situation feels different; maybe because it is still so recent and therefore raw? Or maybe because sorry rings hollow when it come from within a system that hasn’t changed to reflect any acknowledgment of just how badly it failed.

When I was a kid pleading ‘I’m sorry’ while being chastised, my mother used to say to me ‘sorry means I won’t do it again’ and the problem with the current sorrys emanating from officialdom is that they simply don’t come with the promise that it won’t happen again.

Because it could. Because it might well be already happening in other areas of our health service.

Just last week in the Public Accounts Committee it was revealed to Catherine Murphy TD that there are currently four pending court cases involving patients of the BreastCheck service who believe they failed to have their cancers diagnosed appropriately.

We are all acutely aware that our health service is dysfunctional. Yes, there are millions of fantastic stories of people who have had great individual experiences once in the system (I include myself in that) but those individual cases are down, in many cases, to just sheer luck on the day and also to the tireless and often thankless work of the front-line staff in our health service.

But whether you’ve had a good experience or not, the simple fact is that the overall system is dysfunctional and those fantastic staff are working against the backdrop of a system that fails them and us daily.

At this stage people have heard so many calls for the abolition of the HSE that those calls now seem to ring hollow. There’s a general sense of malaise with our health service and an almost resigned acceptance that ‘this is how things are’. But it shouldn’t be.

Before I turned on Dua Lipa this morning I listened to RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland where Emma O’Kelly, the Education Correspondent, had a package regarding the complete lack of therapeutic supports for disabled children attending St John of God’s School in Islandbridge, Dublin 8.

The package included an interview with a couple whose child is impacted. The couple happened to be French citizens living in Ireland and they said they were shocked that vital public services like this are outsourced to a private charity.

They spoke about how lucky they are that they have the financial means to pay for private speech and language therapies and occupational therapies but that was offset by a young lone parent living in the flats I grew up in whose son is profoundly disabled and totally reliant on the services supposed to be provided in the school because she can simply not afford to arrange those services privately.

So one child will be guaranteed a better future than another child from the same school, all on the basis of the income of their parents. There is no other way to view that than as a complete abdication of responsibility by the State.

Similarly those women who are terrified right now by the thought that maybe their smear test wasn’t accurate or maybe they ignored other symptoms because they’d been reassured by a clear smear, can either face a waiting period in the public system through their GPs  or, if they can afford it, they can go an pay roughly €85 to a private clinic and have an immediate smear.

I could point to every other treatment required by people and there’d be a similar Private Vs Public story of one person guaranteed a better outcome than another all because of the balance in their bank account.

Our two tier system is the definition of unfair and it is an indictment of the failure to create a true modern Republic.

The unprecedented cross-party agreement to the Róisin Shortall led SláinteCare initiative to create a truly universal publicly accessible single tier health service is the only show in town but we need true dedication from Government to really get that show on the road and the many vested interests who profit from the current two-tier private/public model will have to be faced down completely.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: RTÉ

47 thoughts on “Anne Marie McNally: When Sorry Rings Hollow

  1. Cian

    Agreed – we should remove our two-tier health system and treat all patients equally.

    However, CervicalCheck (and the other parts of Cancer Screening services) ARE DOING THIS. They already exist, are available free to everyone one. Nobody skips the queue. Everyone is treated equally. Yes – we need to audit them to ensure that are doing their job properly.

    Yes – you can go private and pay €85 to have a private smear test – do you have any guarantee that it will be ‘better’ than the state one?

      1. b

        “Our healthcare system is an incompetent mess” and “we should stop continually outsourcing our healthcare” aren’t totally compatible opinions

        1. nellyb

          only on the premise we continue being incompetent mess.
          we’ve passed the same sex marriage referendum, we’ve come a long way on recycling, plastic shopping bags and other stuff, we’re improving children’s welfare with removal of school baptism rule. We can totally reform HSE and can totally do smear tests at home – we have loads of qualified people for it.

        2. kellma

          There is not necessarily anything wrong with outsourcing if you remember that you are only outsourcing the process and not the control or the duty of care. If you outsource (for whatever reason) you are still carrying the can morally. It is your duty then to ensure that you control that outsourced function as if you were doing it yourself so ensuring you are managing risk, checking quality control standards etc.
          This didn’t happen here. Mistakes happen. The question is were proper process audits done? What controls were in place? And the biggest of all: who thought it was good judgement to make use of the CYA approach to dealing with mistakes, especially when we are talking about people’s lives here?!? It NEVER works. It ALWAYS comes back to bite you. Why do people never learn from this, is what I cannot understand.

          1. Cian

            Screening is never 100% effective – regardless of how it is done.
            In CervicalCheck we don’t yet know what audits were in place and if they worked or not. So your last paragraph is misleading.

            The only failures that we know are:
            1. Vicky Phelan’s original smear test was mis-read; and the US Labs paid 2.5m in compensation (suggesting that US Labs failed in their part of the job)
            2. That Cervical Check failed to follow full Open Disclosure and tell all the woman that had false-negatives in earlier tests.

          2. Ron

            who is this “we” you keep referring to in your post Cian? You write like your part of a vested group to this scandal.

    1. Nuala Mc Namara

      CPL Labs in US only contracted by Cervical Check to do standard screening only re liquid based cytology which has higher potential for error despite the fact that since 2002 they also tested smears for HPV re US patients,etc so questions need to be asked why HPV screening not contracted for?
      The patient MUST come first and be top priority,not cost,etc!

      1. Cian

        AFAIK CervicalCheck is planning to roll out HPV screening this year for all users.

        However, when the contract was put in place they were looking to replace like-with-like; i.e. all tests done in Irish using liquid based cytology (if you say that is the type of test) with a portion of theses outsourced to the US using the same liquid based cytology tests.

        1. Nuala Mc Namara

          HIQA recommended HPV cervical screening in May last year but year later and still waiting!
          I don’t buy your argument re standard cervical screening only contracted with US firms when they had capacity to do HPV cervical smear screening since 2002. with lowest potential for error!The women of Ireland deserve the very best health care screening!

          1. Cian

            Nuala – would you have been happier if *all* the screening was outsourced to the US and get the better HPV screen? or to keep some of the skills in Ireland and get a lower level of screening?

  2. Ina.

    What’s the Social Democrat’s policy re. abortion. Do they only support it up to 12 weeks?

      1. Ina

        Is that it though? Would they support a less restrictive time period, or is 12 weeks the maximum the Social Democrats would go for?

        1. mildred st. meadowlark

          Why not ask a member of the SDs? I reckon they’d be your best bet.

          1. Ina.

            I have. I’ve been in touch with the Social Democrats over this, but they never responded. Very disappointed. Apparently quite a few SD members are anti-repeal and a compromise was reached.

          2. mildred st. meadowlark

            Very interesting. Didn’t know that, and I have to say I’m surprised.

  3. prince Adolf Bob von bronkwurst

    Ann Marie hopefully you might get elected to something soon….

  4. phil

    I for one am tired of reading statements like
    ‘the tireless and often thankless work of the front-line staff in our health service’ …

    Ive spent a lot of time in various hospitals over the last few years , and IMO its just not true … I understand why its said, but its not helpful…

    1. Robert

      which bit isn’t true? The tireless or the thankless?

      You saying Thankyou to a nurse one time doesn’t count …

      1. Cian

        I’m sure the back-office work done in hospitals/HSE is thankless too.

        Does anyone send flowers to the audit department? or the training department? or HR? or IT? or records? or the morgue?

  5. nellyb

    “if they can afford it, they can go an pay roughly €85 to a private clinic and have an immediate smear” – immediate sampling, but still 4+ weeks waiting, and women aren’t exactly informed if contracted labs are compatible, certified or whatever. This is, obviously, not just about smear tests, it’s other tests too and these affect men’s quality of life.
    HSE can work if fecklessness and greed weren’t the guiding operational principles. And there is always the same question that pops up – who write HSE employment / supply contracts? They are a lethal bunch.

  6. postmanpat

    Hay kids, I listen to current popular music. I’m 35 and still cool. kids still say “cool” right? Anyway. LOL, vote for me. I going back to listen to profound lyrics by corporations that produce manufactured music for kids twenty years younger than me. #notjustanotherphonypoliticiantryingtoohard

    1. Robert

      Ouch. Imagine being judged by an anonymous coward on the internet. I’d say that hurts.

    1. mildred st. meadowlark

      I only know who she is because of the utter poo they play on the radio in the office. Pure gick. I’m looking at you 2fm.

      1. realPolithicks

        They play music in your office, where do you work if you don’t mind my asking Mildred?

  7. A person

    I don’t understand why BS gives a platform for political party broadcasts. This article references the 2 leaders of the Soc Dems, but provides no solutions to the HSE issue. Having, unfortunately, been through the health services, I found them amazingly thorough, understanding and professional.

    But hey, so easy to knock them for political grandstanding reasons.

    And hey, it should all be free to everyone, unless of course you are in govt and have to make decisions.

    1. Nuala Mc Namara

      Actually Roisin Shortall was chair of Oireachtas Committee on Future of Healthcare which approved Slainte Care:”Now Ireland can have health service that works for all”IT 30/5/17

  8. gorugeen

    I wouldn’t be alive today but for my private health insurance. My treatment was in private hospitals. It is a seriously warped system where the basic healthcare can be bought elsewhere. Private hospitals have a place. They should be there to provide extra not basic healthcare.

    1. Cian

      I’m glad to hear that.

      But the private healthcare (IMO) is a fasttrack to care – not better care.

      And yes, getting treated earlier is usually advantageous – but the actual care – the doctors, nurses, equipment in the private hospitals is the same (or lower standard) than the public hospitals. The food and accommodation is better in a private hospital.

      But if I’m ever seriously ill – I’d much prefer to be in a public hospital.

      1. mildred st. meadowlark

        I’ve been waiting 3 and a half years for an appointment in Temple Street for my daughter, for a non urgent medical issue

        Regardless of urgency, three and a half years is a bit much. I should add that we haven’t received the appointment yet. We’ve been told we’ll have it soon.

Comments are closed.