From top: Cork University Hospital, Wilton, Cork; Dan Boyle
The Accident and Emergency department at Cork University Hospital, not unique among Irish hospitals, has in recent weeks not only had far too many people awaiting treatment on trolleys, it also has seen many ambulances queued outside as mobile treatment rooms, preventing them from being available for emergency calls.
It is being suggested, that as a means of dealing with these ongoing difficulties, the hospital should convert its Acute Assessment Unit into a general ward to create additional bed space. I believe that this proposal would not only be counterproductive, it is an idea that is dripping with irony.
The Acute Assessment Unit was developed as an alternative to A and E, a measure that would relieve stress from the usual point of admissions in most hospitals. Initially GPs could refer patients to the unit bypassing the need to go through A and E.
I was a beneficiary of this unit. Around five years ago I acquired a serious bacterial infection. After a visit to my GP, a blood test revealed that my white blood cell count was extraordinarily high. I was the most ill I had ever been in my life.
My GP had me admitted to the Acute Assessment Unit. There I was put in the care of an exceptional consultant and an amazing nursing staff.
I required three laser surgery procedures over three days. The first procedure did not go well. I found myself having difficulty breathing and in a great deal of pain.
It was then I experienced all that is good with our health service. During my difficulty a change of shift occurred, but a junior doctor and the nurse in charge, stayed on a further 90 minutes until I was again breathing normally and the pain had subsided. I will always be grateful for the kindness they showed me.
This I experienced as a public patient. Public by choice. I believe in a public health service. It is one of the obvious failings of the Irish health system that not enough policy makers, and sadly some service providers, don’t.
We spend a lot of money on our health system. More proportionately than our neighbour the UK does on its National Health Service.
Our funding mechanisms are a mess. Around two million of our population are medical card holders at a cost to the State of about €1500 per year per card. This would be divided between holders of hospital service and doctor only medical cards. Two thirds of this cost is spent on drugs.
Two million others take out private health insurance, partially subsidised through tax relief. The average premium is about €2000 a year.
Value for money is not being provided through either funding mechanism. We should no longer accept a bit of this a bit of that approach to our health service.
We should adopt a philosophy that has health promotion ahead of reactive health care. A system which is more community than hospital based.
Health care should not be a lottery. I was lucky, very lucky. I was at the right place at the right time when I became ill. A time when some innovation was being attempted. A shaft of light that allowed a possibility that different might be better.
We seem to be reverting to business as usual crisis management of our health services. This will guarantee ever increasing costs with ever worsening outcomes.
Becoming ill or watching those we care about suffer is already bad enough. Having a health care system that is more ill than we are ourselves, is truly tragic.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Pic: Denis Scannell