Wednesday, October 17, 2007


After a couple weeks of clear blue skies, the mists started to fall yesterday and we found ourselves back in familiar climatic (more like bloody anti-climatic) conditions.

There are a couple ways you can observe that poor weather is on the way. One is a red sky at morning. Another is a dog eating grass. But perhaps the best one of all is Bertie Ahern telling the Dail that the Health budget has increased from E3 billion in 1997 to E14 billion today.

The moment you hear that, be advised that you need to run for cover. For you know that you are going to be drowned by an endless drizzle of statistics.
Once Bertie Ahern replies to a question by reading out a note written for him by a civil servant, beware! It's anorak weather.

It’s ceaseless stuff: BreastCheck is available in 15 counties. There’s high voluntary screening activity. The budget is E14 billion a year across 120,000. A 1% control of that is a small amount. There are enormous resources being put into the health servic3es. Most of that is for staff. There are 120,000 of them. The budget is E14 billion. Just in case you were not aware, the budget is E14 million. And by the way there are 120,000 staff.

That’s why they call him Anorak Man, because he needs to wear one to protect him from the deluge of information he gives out.

Yesterday’s Leaders Questions was as dull and dispiriting as the first damp evening after the clock goes back an hour.

The subject being debated was actually vitally important; the
heart-rending story of Susie Long who died last Monday. Both opposition leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore raised her case and the fact that as a public patient she had to wait months for a scan that a private patient got in three days.

The problem for Enda Kenny is that it’s better to play the direct ball when asking the Taoiseach a question. Give him a selection of topics to address and instead of avoiding just one question he will avoid the lot, instead providing a bewildering array of statistics and non sequiturs.

In fairness, the Taoiseach had a couple of points to make. But he spluttered worse than a damaged exhaust and it was hard to know what he was talking about. He did say it was regrettable that Susie Long had been let down by the health services. But he argued that it wasn’t because she was a public patient. A doctor referring an urgent public case to the hospital for a colonoscopy would get priority. But as Eamon Gilmore pointed out how would you know what case was urgent until it the test was done.

The other point I think he made is that we shouldn’t lose sight of the woods for the trees, that the overall performance of a behemoth of a service like the HSE should not be judged solely on a number of individual cases or discrete problem areas.
At least I think he made it. Blue sky thinking it certainly was not.

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