Bryan Wall: Off With His Health


From top:Minister for Health Simon Harris on RTÈ 1’s Prime Time last week Eva O Callaghan, a student nurse from the Mater hospital and a member of the INMO (Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation) at the trade union’s march in Dublin city centre last Saturday; Bryan Wall

Whenever people decide that enough is enough, and that their mistreatment at the hands of governments or corporations has become too much to endure, nothing is certain. This is because what was expected can no longer be taken for granted.

The rules that people have abided by up until this point are no longer of any use. Low pay, poor conditions, and increasing amounts of overtime create a tinder box of revolutionary struggle just waiting to exploded.

Our own experience in Ireland in this regard has been somewhat muted for the majority of the state’s existence. Over the last 10 years, however, with the collapse of the social contract — which was tenuous at best — people are no longer willing to stay within the confined lanes of waiting for their salvation at the ballot box.

Unions and mass organising have become more and more important to the lives of many people. They offer a way of resisting that is more than merely voting for the opposite party in an election.

Unions especially are anathema to the powerful in society, which is why they had to be either captured by power or crushed by it. When unions do actually stand up for themselves and their members, the elite are initially flabbergasted but quickly go on the offensive.

Take the recent episode of [RTE 1’s] Prime Time which dealt with the nurse and midwife strike and the children’s hospital construction scandal. Within seconds — literally, seconds — the underlying message was made clear for everyone watching.

David McCullagh, after showing a clip of a nurse on the picket line, said:

“But what are the risks to patients posed by next week’s planned three-day strike?”

The following interview with Simon Harris was more akin to an annoying aunt nagging you for more information at Christmas than a journalist confronting a health minister over his failures and the failures of his department.

In the case of the nurses and midwives, Mr Harris was keen to reiterate the point so conveniently mentioned in the major papers last week.

He said to Miriam O’Callaghan any agreement made with the striking nurses and midwives has to be made “in the confines of the [public sector] agreement”. Otherwise “you’ll have me sitting in this seat next week asking me about a different group.”

And this is the real threat posed by the nurses and midwives. Not their calls for better pay and conditions but the threat of a leading by successful example. In any society run along capitalist lines the workers have to be pliant, underpaid, and expendable. Nothing can be allowed to threaten this.

Hence we have in the media and on Prime Time the repeating of the threat posed to the welfare of patients by those on strike. Pit worker against worker. It is a textbook example of class warfare that could have been lifted out of any 19th-century economics textbook.

One GP, Doireann O’Leary, who is sympathetic with the nurses’ and midwives’ strike told Pat Kenny that “the government’s inaction on this is inappropriate and is really very upsetting.”  The government “seem not to want to resolve this” she said.

Her opinion seems to reflect that of the general public despite the attacks on the nurses and midwives in the media over the last week. The protest in Dublin over the weekend seems to confirm this.

These attacks will likely ramp up alongside increasing obstinance on the part of the government. Their supposed alarm that any capitulation to the wishes of the nurses may lead to an onslaught of similar claims is not what they really fear. Class and worker solidarity is the real fear.

People working together to improve their conditions and society in general is what scares them. That’s because it would involve a redistribution of wealth in the wrong direction. Instead of being redistributed up — which is the only appropriate direction for any redistribution of wealth – it would be redistributed to the people at the bottom, i.e., the workers.

Swathes of money can be found for a hospital whose cost is so obscene as to put it on a par with the worst excesses of dictators and their penchant for all things gold-plated.

The true cost of the hospital was known months ago. But given that redistribution in this case was directed at the right people and companies, it is an appropriate amount of expenditure.

Ensuring that we have a properly functioning public health system with adequately paid staff is not though. If it was funded and run the way it should be then it couldn’t be slowly dismantled, sold off to the lowest bidder, and privatised.

That is the endgame here. Not saving money, or ensuring that the government doesn’t have to deal with other unions and groups asking for more crumbs from the table.

A functioning public health system cannot be allowed to function under the conditions of a neoliberal society. It has to be made as inadequate and undesirable as possible in order to turn the public against it.

Once the appropriate amount of disdain for the health system exists, in swoop the private healthcare providers who will promise to save us all from the nightmare of “socialist” health provision.

Again, this is textbook economic policy. It was carried out with aplomb in the UK with the privatisation of the rail network and it is being carried here along the same lines but in the health system.

People can get in the way of this. Hence the need to shut down the protests as soon as possible; to make people believe that the striking nurses and midwives are a risk to the health of every person who relies on the public health system.

The government portrays itself as the saviour of the health system at the same time that it is destroying it.

Are people falling for this? Not yet, but never underestimate the ability of any government to whip up the suitable amount of fear and hostility when needed. For this reason the nurses and midwives must be successful.

They deserve, at the very least, a level of pay commensurate with the vocation they undertake. And it is a vocation. A person does not work shifts of 14 hours of being constantly on their feet without love for what they do.

Don’t expect the government to sway but likewise, don’t expect the nurses, midwives, and their fellow workers to give in to the greed and apathy of our leaders.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column appears here every Monday. Read more of his work here and follow Bryan on twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


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45 thoughts on “Bryan Wall: Off With His Health

  1. Cian

    A risk of privatisation of the health service?
    Tosh. Do you realise how much of the “public” health system in Ireland isn’t in fact public?

    Guess who owns and runs the following hospitals?
    – Beaumont Hospital
    – Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital
    – Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street
    – Mater Hospital
    – Mercy University Hospital
    – National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street
    – Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin
    – Rotunda Hospital
    – Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital
    – South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital
    – St. James’s Hospital
    – St. Johns Hospital, Limerick
    – St. Michael’s Hospital, Dun Laoghaire
    – St. Vincent’s University Hospital
    – The Adelaide & Meath Hospital, Dublin (NCH)
    – The Coombe Hospital

        1. millie st murderlark

          He’s not talking about the kind of Dr. qualification you can buy off the internet, you know

        1. reddit

          It’s not just the content but the messenger who is the problem if they are employed to skew conversations, unwaveringly and without exception, to a pro-FG stance. Get real Rep, you’re being played by an employee of An Bord Spin.

          1. Cian

            I agree totally…. Except I’m not employed by An Bord Spin, or anyone related to FG, or any party, (or even the HSE). I’m not employed to spin anything. I’m here in my own time. So your point is moot.

            You (and a few others) spend a lot of time bashing politicians, civil servants, and other the commentators but don’t actively contribute to the debate. So how about you engage in the debate rather than just slagging off people?

            I just get peed off when I see Bryan coming out with complete garbage week after week. He obviously doesn’t understand how the HSE is structured – but feels he has a solution? You can’t solve a problem until you understand the problem.

          2. Cian

            SOQ they are all voluntary hospitals. Set up mostly by various nuns. Originally they provided free care (paid by donations) and nuns.

            They were then funded by the government. And have evolved where the majority of their funding is from the HSE. But they all maintain their independence and have service level agreements. The HSE can’t tell them what to do – they and only ask.

            It is interesting how many voluntary hospitals were moved into trusts just after the state decided the various religious orders should help pay for the child abuse scandals.

          3. Frilly Keane

            Wrong Cian

            Some of those Hospitals are in fact

            Those that aren’t
            Are Indeed Voluntary
            But again, wrong

            Not all of them were founded by Nuns

            The biggest mistake Mickie Martin made when he forced the HSE rollout before tidying up the Health Board structures
            Was not getting all the Voluntaries into the HSE

            If the HSE had any balls at all it would pick anyone of those Voluntaries and tell them they’re not renewing their service agreement

          4. Rep

            Holles Street isn’t religious run.

            Hence the large outcry when it was announced it would be moved into Vincents and under the sphere of influence of the nuns there.

        2. GiggidyGoo

          Not much to debate when it’s a ‘guess who’ question. If he wants debate then he should take the time to make it debatable.

          1. Yep

            Cian doesn’t do the debate. He uses stats to muddy the water while claiming to illuminate.

            Maybe I’m wrong. He might just come back with the amount these hospitals receive by way of the HSE which means….ding ding ding! The State!

            Not “public” though so just bow down to his totally unbiased sourcing.

  2. Jake38

    Dear Brian,

    Where would you like the extra €300,000,000 for the nurses to come from, each year?

    Extra tax?
    Cost cutting elsewhere in the health sector?

    (Asking for a friend, though I suspect she already knows the answer).

    1. Austin Cullen

      Hi Bryan, actual nurse here so I can tell you that nursing is NOT a vocation it is a profession. This narrative about how people are somehow “chosen” to do nursing or are called by some divine entity to join the ranks does nothing to help our argument over pay.

      Is physiotherapy considered a vocation? Is radiography considered a vocation? Is occupational therapy considered a vocation? NO

      I’ll tell you what they are, they’re health care professions that are expected to work a 37 hour week (nurses work 39 hours a week) and earn 7-8K more a year than I do. You can see how the vocation thing hasn’t really worked out for us!

      Nursing too is a health care profession with it’s own distinct knowledge base and a profession that has it’s own regulation body and register. I’m currently in the middle of completing my MSc thesis on a topic that is entirely related to nursing and the interventions that nurses alone carry out. I would also remind you it is a legal offence to call oneself a nurse if one is not on the register of nurses, held by the Nursing and Midwifery board of Ireland.

      I appreciate your article is trying to help our cause and thank you. However, you are not a nurse and are not in a position to make a comment on whether or not it is a vocation.

      Nursing is a profession, first and foremost.

      P.S.-That nursing student that is mentioned in the headline is a BSc nursing student from University College Dublin, the days of being referred to as a “student nurse from X hospital” is gone since the introduction the undergraduate degree in nursing.

      1. SOQ

        In fairness Austin, I think that cultural reference is historical more than anything else. Back in the day, nurses = nuns so yes there was a vocational element to it and people still unthinkingly associate the two.

        But you are 100% correct in pointing out that now, nursing is a profession, just like accountancy or IT, and should be paid accordingly.

        The financial obscenity of The Children’s hospital, from its location to its design, and now not just an over run but a gallop before it really even starts, is a contextual bonus.

        The government will not win this one, because nurses are held in such high regard by the general public, and rightly so.

        1. SOQ

          Oh and one more point.

          I doubt if there is a more lazy, power hungry, pension watching mess of a union movement in Europe than the leadership of Irish Labour Party right now.

          All we see is arrogant clowns like Joan Burton and Kelly so this will happen despite, not because of, The Labour Party.

    2. Junkface

      Can anyone take the Irish Gov’t seriously when they talk about taxes either? There are individuals who pay more tax than big companies. There’s no fairness in Ireland, if this were France there would have been marches and maybe riots long ago.

  3. A Person

    Its gets worse every week. IS BS posting these articles for click bait, much like the GOH vids (which have suddenly and thankfully disappeared). How can any commentator conflate the privatisation of British Rail (which is widely acknowledged as disastrous) with the nurses strike? How can gross over-runs on the children’s hospital (which are mostly due to its foolish location) be conflated with the nurses strike. Also are you seriously suggesting that we should not build a “gold plated” facility in order to pay nurses – let them work in s##t buildings, shure it never hurt anyone, as long as the workers get paid. Why not suggest regional pay?

  4. Pip

    Like I say, the more it costs, the better for certain players.
    Seeing as we don’t have a military-industrial complex.
    Or a war….

  5. LeopoldGloom

    Same imcompetent gombeens are running the Dept of Health for years now and the overstaffed, ineffective HSE. Changing minister won’t do an awful lot. Change needs to be deeper routed than that.

    1. kellMA

      It has always been, for as long as I can remember, the worst portfolio for a minister. No matter who went in there, they ended up with a crock and were just managing one crisis after the other. Didn’t someone describe the department of health as the “Angola of Ireland”?

  6. Rob_G

    Unions and mass organising have become more and more important to the lives of many people.

    – union membership has been declining year on year for decades.

    A person does not work shifts of 14 hours of being constantly on their feet without love for what they do.”

    I’d say that there are many security guards and retail staff that might not agree with you.

    This is a lot of fact-free guff posing as analysis.

    1. SOQ

      I think the point he was trying to make is that nurses are as qualified as any third level graduate yet have to work in such conditions. You won’t find many security guards with degrees in security now will you?

      1. Rob_G

        In fact I have known security guards with degrees in all sorts of disciplines, but anyhow…

        Nurses already get paid a lot, more than security guards who work similar hours, more than other graduates with a similar level of education, and more than nurses in other countries who work the same sort of shifts. If they want to go on strike for more money, this is their prerogative, but a lot of what Bryan is writing above is either unsupported, or demonstrably untrue.

        1. SOQ

          People are qualified in all sorts of things that they do not work in therefore are of no relevance.

          If you think nurses get paid a lot then why is so many leaving the country? And, why are the terms and conditions of nurses working in private hospitals so much better?

          1. Rob_G

            From memory, about one-in-six people born in Ireland reside outside the state – it would be amazing if there were not a good many nurses within these numbers also. People move abroad for a variety of reasons – for more money, for adventure, etc

            OECD nursing remuneration data show that, in purchasing power parity terms, Irish nursing pay (including allowances and premium payments) between 2007 and 2017 was consistently on a par with Australia and higher than New Zealand, Canada and the UK

            I don’t know how much money we should be willing to pay nurses to ensure that not a single one moves to Oz or UAE.

  7. Frilly Keane

    One thing I know about Nursing

    It most definitely became a job when Brian Cowen put Nurses out onto the street to strike

    Sum’ting else
    He was the Ambassador for Angola when David McCutcheon (consultant that led the build and relocation of Hardcourt St / Adelaide/ and the Meath all out to Tallaght) said the Minister needed to double their allocation to General Hospitals with A&E units
    Cowen laughed
    McCutcheon handed in his notice
    And was head-hunted immediately by the Canadians to head up their Health Service

    ‘bit like Willie Walsh and BA
    Literally with 24 hours

    60 million punts btw
    Is what a 580 odd public bed
    70 odd private suite
    All singing All Dancing 57 varieties Hospital cost in 98

    1. Cian

      Wha’? ye’re talkin’ a load of aul sh’te:

      The Building
      At a capital cost of £140M, the new development at Tallaght was one of the largest capital investments in healthcare ever undertaken by the State. Children, adults and older people are cared for at the hospital, which has 562 beds, 12 theatres, and 14 Critical Care beds.

          1. Frilly Keane

            And it didn’t need to have the LUAS running up and down the centre
            And keep the largest medical centre in the State open at the same time
            And it wasn’t prone to flooding

            How many times has that site been under water now

            And it’s not even out’ve the ground yet

            Wait’ll till 2022 folks

            The entire health infrastructure outside Dublin 8 and Wilton in Cork will be defunct

  8. octo

    But nurses are paid while they complete their training. Radiographers and other healthcare professionals have to fund their own education.
    That’s the difference.

    1. Austin Cullen

      Nurses are only paid for the last 36 weeks of their degree during their internship placements, they are paid because they are considered to be 1/2 a Registered Nurse on the roster, so x2 4th year internship student nurses equates to x1 full Registered Nurse.

      Student are NOT paid during most of their degree.

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