Dan Boyle: Only Women Bleed


From top: Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Director General of the HSE Tony O’Brien; Dan Boyle

I’ve long been a fan of RTÉ’s ‘Reeling In The Years’ (and the earlier BBC programme ‘Rock and Roll Years’ from which it got its inspiration). The marrying of songs of the time linked with stories and issues of an era, proves to be an excellent memory trigger.

Soundtracks can be even more effective when conveying mood rather than chronology. A somewhat obscure song that has been playing in my head is ‘Only Women Bleed‘. The version I remember is that by English actress Julie Covington. It was years later that I learned that the surprising writer of the song was Alice Cooper of ‘School’s Out‘ and ‘Poison‘ fame.

The song seems apposite as we deal with yet another women’s health crisis in Ireland. A sadly repetitive tale where no memory triggers seem to work.

The litany of crises from Anti D, Hepatitis C to the current CervicalCheck scandal, with many, many controversies in between, has created a culture where women have been condemned as second class citizens in our health system.

If the State had contrived to create a health service that treated a sector of society with callous indifference, it could not have done better.

Except in Ireland, in relation to our health service, we don’t do contrivance. We do balls up followed by cover up. Few are ever responsible or accountable.

Perhaps this a carry over from the Catholic Church influence in managing our hospitals. Events of this type have been culturally treated as ‘God’s Will’. Better to have the lack of divine intervention than human negligence or incompetence, as an explanation for these scandals.

No Minister for Health has ever resigned over a health scandal. Political responsibility should certainly be accepted where policy has led directly to negligence. Even a prevailing political philosophy, such as putting fiscal prudence ahead of public safety, puts culpability firmly at the feet of the political decision maker.

As absent as political accountability has been in relation to public health, there has been a greater absence of administrative accountability.

We have seen the stepping down of the director of CervicalCheck (ironically a woman), in a rare resignation within the health service. Is that in itself enough or has the person or people responsible stepped up and accepted their responsibility?

I have listened incensed, as many have I suspect, to several recent radio interviews given by the Director General of the Health Service Executive, Tony O’Brien.

Mr. O’Brien is due to step down from his position, in a matter of months. A retirement brought about by natural events. While his resignation for the direct involvement he has had with CervicalCheck, would seem pyrrhic, responsibility should be taken whether failure has occurred on the first day in a job or in the final weeks of employment.

His resignation, while doing nothing to reduce or eliminate the damage that has been caused, would at least address the flawed culture of lack of accountability in our administrative systems.

It may even help produce a health service where women aren’t treated as second class citizens.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


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21 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Only Women Bleed

  1. Hansel

    Here we are again with the “it’s because of gender”. These women were treated horribly. No question.

    Women are more proactive in seeking medical help. Women spend more on healthcare and are primary users of health services, for many obvious reasons. They account for 56% of health spending in the OECD. Women are our health system’s biggest customers.

    Are women treated badly by our health system more often than men? Probably.
    Does this mean it’s BECAUSE they’re women? Not necessarily.

    Reducing shameful health service provider behaviour to a “war of the sexes” is lowering the tone of the conversation and deflecting massively.

    One would be loathe to describe higher health expenditure on women as sexism. Equally, we should not describe our low quality health services as sexism.

      1. Hansel

        I’m not the “tone police” Starina, but I am quickly reaching the point where Broadsheet and Journal’s “feminism can cure this” angle makes me just check out.

        For the record, I see myself as a feminist. I believe women are woefully supported in this country, particularly when it comes to raising children, being full-time carers, etc. Remuneration in female-dominated work sectors (nursing, midwifery, care) is an outrage.
        Female sports organisations are woefully under-funded by the exchequer. We can go on and on about the ways women deserve better, without even talking about the abortion referendum and other parts of the constitution (“a woman’s place is in the home!”).

        But to see a health scandal caused by lack of governance and accountability and think “it’s because of sexism” is simplistic.
        What do you suppose is the solution, if sexism is the problem? More women at the top of the HSE? More expenditure on women’s healthcare?
        We spend 30% more on women’s healthcare than we do on men’s. That’s great: it’s needed. But apportioning more resources won’t necessarily fix anything because our expenditure is completely wasted if our health service cannot act in a more professional manner. And putting more women at the top of this bad organisation won’t cure its systemic problems.

        So again: if this is an issue caused by inherent sexism, how exactly should it be cured?
        I’m suggesting it’s an issue caused by bad governance: unelected tsars on a massive state wage with little to no public accountability or transparency. Perhaps it could be cured by greater scrutiny of those in charge.

    1. Rosie

      I agree with you Hansel. These botch ups happen to men and children too because of incompetence.
      Women are not targeted because of their sex. This is a paranoid assumption. Dan, I think most people consider women to be first class citizens which is what they are.

      1. Hansel

        It’s just easy jingo-ism for a captive audience. People nowadays just seem to want reaffirmation that their cause is the most important.

        Yes these women deserved better. Yes it’s an outrage. And yes right now there’s pensioners on trolleys and children on waiting lists. They all deserve more dignity than they’re getting. Our health service is heartless and often treats our most vulnerable with contempt.

        This didn’t start with this scandal, and won’t end with it.

  2. bisted

    …reeling in the weeks would be good title for this column and those of Derek Mooney and Ann Marie McNally…the lazy cut and paste ‘splaining from dreary has-been and wannabe politicos is tedious…time for a reshuffle Broadsheet…

      1. bisted

        …far from it Frillser…in fact the occassional Frill-bit or bake off analysis are far from dreary and the perfect antidote to the weekly drivel from the politicos…

  3. Ron

    No Minister for Health has ever resigned over a health scandal.

    No accountability means that nothing will ever change. Why would they change when we as a nation of citizens allow a system of no accountability to prevail… the buck stops with the Irish electorate and as an electorate we endorse the shady backroom handshakes…. we endorse the mediocrity and incompetence of our public service and politicians. And anyone who votes for any of the ‘mainstream’ party’s and candidates is in fact endorsing that incompetence and arrogance. The electorate rewards them for that behaviour by re electing them…

    Be the change you want to see in others. Otherwise don’t come on here talking about how outraged you are that Irish women are dead because of this scandal and then go into the privacy of the ballot box and reward those who were in charge and ultimately accountable by ticking a no 1 beside their names..

    A vote for any of the mainstream parties is a vote that gives the middle finger to the families of those dead women and if that sits well on your moral compass well then go right ahead. At least have the decency to stop expressing faux rage about this when in fact you don’t really care ultimately about those women because it doesn’t affect you or your family. I’m alright Jack will always prevail.

    1. Cian

      Why exactly should minister Harris resign? What has he, personally, done wrong that would warrant his resignation.

  4. Cian

    It is unfair to say women are second class citizens when the very existence of CervicalCheck (and BreaskCheck) refutes that. If we thought women were second class citizens we wouldn’t bother with the screening.

    It is incredibly unfair on both the HSE and Irish women to compare this current scandal with Anti D, Hepatitis C and other previous scandals.

    The handling to the current CervicalCheck is worlds apart from the previous scandals. The HSE is a different place today than years ago.
    1. In 2015 a decision was made by HSE, in line with international best practices, to provide information on outcomes of clinical cancer audits to treating clinicians for onward communication to patients as appropriate.
    2. CervicalCheck could have interpreted this as only applying to new cases – but decided to apply it to historic cases too.
    3. An “gagging” orders (to date) were at the request of the US Lab’s insurance company

    1. filly buster

      i absolutely hate this ‘Cian’ fella .. not a day goes by he doesn’t have some horrible comment up here.

    2. filly buster

      also.. every one of his points in every comment is so easy to debunk/refute/rubbish, but I’m not bottomed. He’s beyond reach. Can we all make a pact to completely ignore him so maybe he’ll just fupp off one day coz he’s not getting a reaction.

      1. Hansel

        Not saying you’re wrong (I’ve no idea!) but if – as you say – his comments are easy to refute, would you mind doing the refuting? Because otherwise we’re all just going to read his comments and not know the other side (your side).

  5. TheRealJane

    It’s really stupid and immature to imagine there’s a link between the Magdalene laundries, symphostiotomies, hep c, the 8th amendment, women being strapped to gurneys and force fed, women being allowed to die, women being kept artificially alive while their tissues break down, forced c sections, denied c sections, cancer treatment withheld, this scandal…

    Guys, I’d be totes upset if I thought that women’s health wasn’t being properly managed. Really, really sad. I mean, I have female relatives, even! So I get it. OK, so there may be a list of indignities and fatal errors heaped on people with a certain reproductive system. They may be denied information about their diagnoses – but what are they going to do with it anyway? I mean, it’s just paranoia to connect a country that forces women to remain pregnant against their will and has scandal after scandal related to women’s healthcare with neglect and a dismissive attitude.

    Lighten up. You get screening! Ok, you might not get the accurate results and then die but you know, omlettes and eggs.

    1. Hansel

      Yep, that’s exactly what we need to focus on: a discussion on gender equality.

      Let’s not ask the more difficult questions regarding the governance of our health service, the oversight of our health service, the conduct of health professionals in general.

      A few more women in charge should cure it.

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