Why, Oh Why?

I accompanied my elderly mother to a high-tech private hospital yesterday for a check-up with a specialist. While she received nothing but the best of care, I couldn’t help but feel very uncomfortable with the whole experience. The gap between the public service and the private sector seems to be ever widening and I really fear for the future of our health service if privatisation continues to be seen as the way forward.

My mother is a long-term resident in the dementia unit of a large public nursing home. She is severely physically disabled and suffers from an unusual form of dementia. When she was admitted to the nursing home some years ago, I was told that she would no longer require health insurance as all care is fully covered by the public health system. Knowing what I do about the state of our health service, I ignored this advice and opted to maintain my mother’s basic insurance cover. Every citizen in this state is entitled to a bed in a public hospital but the reality is, only the very sickest patients and accident victims succeed in getting a bed when they need it. Otherwise, the waiting lists for specialist appointments, out-patient services and elective admissions, are atrocious. I wanted to keep her insurance as a safety valve in case we ever needed to access specialist intervention for her.

As things turned out, my mother developed a nasty auto-immune condition recently and required urgent specialist attention. The nearest appointment we could get for her at the local public hospital involved a four-month wait. A private appointment was available at the Beacon Hospital for the following day so naturally I gave the go-ahead to proceed with this appointment. Her insurance policy covers out-patient expenses incurred for investigations carried out in a private hospital but it offers little or no help with appointment charges. Frankly, I didn’t care how much it all cost as long as my mother got the urgent help she needed. As it transpired, she required day surgery and her insurance thankfully covered this expense so the charges for her appointments pale into insignificance by comparison. She will have to be carefully monitored until her condition settles.

The Beacon Hospital is quite literally a beacon of the private healthcare market. It’s quiet and efficient but it’s also ‘over the top’ in luxury and exudes wealth out of every corner. The leather armchairs were so huge in the waiting area where we checked-in yesterday that it was almost impossible to manoeuvre a wheelchair. The sight of my poor mother slumped in her wheelchair could not have been more incongruous with the exclusive surroundings we found ourselves in. Her world in the nursing home is very far removed from this plush hospital environment and I felt sick just thinking about how inequitable the whole health system has become. Why are we forced to access care in ‘over the top’ facilities like this when all that’s needed is a basic health service that works efficiently? Why does there have to be such a contrast between public and private care? I hasten to add that my mother was treated with the utmost respect at the Beacon and I’m very grateful for the treatment she’s received there. However, she’s also treated with the utmost respect at the nursing home but her surroundings there leave a lot to be desired. Why does it have to be so different? Why can’t we have a public health service that treats all citizens and especially it’s oldest ones, with the dignity they deserve?

The Beacon Medical Group has won the tenders to build three of the co-located hospitals that are due to be built on public hospital sites (Beaumont Hospital, Cork University Hospital and Limerick Regional Hospital). If what I saw at the Beacon Hospital yesterday is what our Minister for Health envisages as the way forward for our health service, then I despair. When are people going to wake-up to what’s happening to healthcare in this country, and shout STOP?

14 Responses to Why, Oh Why?

  1. Roy says:

    You should have told me…….. I’d have organised a free lunch for you

  2. Steph says:

    Thanks! Roy

    We travelled to the Beacon by ambulance (mini-bus) with a nurse in attendance and the driver waited for us so we didn’t even have time to try out any one of the many coffee docks!!!

    And incidentally, the nurse (CNM 1) came in on her day off to be with my Mum as she had accompanied her to the original appointment and wanted to hear the results.

    You can’t buy service like that!

    ps We go back in September – we’d settle for coffee in the ambulance bay next time! 😉

  3. Geri Atric says:

    What a frustrating state of affairs! Thank goodness you had the foresight (or premonition!) to keep up your mother’s basic insurance cover. I must say that the health system is much better organized here in the Netherlands where I live. However, my eldest daughter who is a neurologist, emmigrated to the Highlands of Scotland from here in 2006 – and they were thrilled to get her, valuing her Dutch training highly. She soon found though that she was the only (nearest) neurologist consultant for 250,000 patients and after much worn out prompting recently got a locum neurologist in to help with the burden. My daughter is English, brought up in Holland. The new locum is Pakistani, brought up in England. The exhausted neurologist who held my daughter’s position before her was (is) Czech and has now emmigrated to Australia to practice there! What a whacky world it is!
    Hope your mother feels better soon Steph.

  4. Steph says:

    Hi! Geri

    Tell your daughter not to even think about coming to Ireland to work as I know that the neurology service here is HUGELY understaffed and overburdened.

    I’m very envious of the excellent health service in the Netherlands. It is held up as the leader in the fight against hospital-acquired infections, such as MRSA. I think you’d be appalled if you saw the state of affairs here in Irish hospitals. I attended a public lecture on hospice care recently and the visiting professor admitted that he was horrified by the conditions he’d seen in our hospitals. Our staff are highly trained but the facilities are generally very poor.

    It is indeed very frustrating to witness the contrast that exists between the public and private sector. It’s undignified squalor for some and the equivalent of luxury hotels for others. We need to find a middle ground that offers adequate comfort to all.

  5. Baino says:

    I’d be a bit angry to know that my hard earned private health care dollars were being spent on furnishings rather than care frankly! Nurses are pretty special people aren’t they? My mother was a midwife, more of a vocation than a job . . probably why their pay is so abyssmal.

  6. Steph says:

    Cheers! Baino

    I’ve met some really special nurses over the years but I could never have been one myself. I’m not good at taking orders from above!

    As regards the over luxurious hospitals, I think what bothers me the most is the fact that health insurance is going to escalate enormously as more and more of these places come on stream and it’s the ordinary punter who will suffer the double whammy – unable to afford insurance as a safety valve and as a result, even more pressure will be put on an already overburdened public health service. It’s becoming so like America, it’s scary!

  7. Gina says:

    If no one used the health insurance available in Ireland at all-then there would be no-one to pay money to the private hospitals. Easier said than done though. The government subsidises VHI at the expense of BUPA and VIVAS, which drives all our premiums up, which pays more into the insurance coffers and more into the private health system that Harney wants so desperately.
    Just imagine if the people that could afford it, paid the amount of their insurance contributions towards public care instead every year, and not the insurance companies. Problem solved. If that only happened even once-the insurance companies would go bust.
    That being said-I don’t necessarily believe that ALL care should be 100% free for everyone. I have always paid for my GP visits and used private insurance where possible because I have been thus far able to afford this. I have seen some punters who will happily pay 160 euro for a hairdo freak out about paying 40 euro for a GP visit. I think medical cards obviously for all who have financial problems, or who are elderly/retired/pensioners/under 18s. Subsidised prescriptions above a certain amount, and free care at hospital level for all barring A&E attendances which should be paid for if the person has the means. Frivolous cosmetic surgery, gender reassignments and fertility treatments also all out of one’s own pocket.

  8. Steph says:

    Hi! Gina (?another name)

    We’re on the same wavelength here. I have health insurance because I choose to put my health first. The cost of my insurance would fund a very nice annual holiday (thank you very much) but I do without this in favour of having the all-year round protection of insurance. It always makes me laugh to overhear people giving out about the cost of seeing their doctor when in the next breath they’re talking about where they’re going for their next foreign holiday. It’s all about priorities. Frankly, I value my health more than any holiday.

    I’ve often sat in a bed in a public ward with patients who are uninsured. My insurance is paying for my care despite the fact that I’m entitled to the bed and the care as a citizen of this State. You can spot me a mile away. I’ll be the very one whose bed isn’t surrounded by expensive flowers and cards, and all the latest glossy magazines. I don’t begrudge anyone this but it’s kind of obvious that some people are benefiting more from the system, than others.

    For a long time, I’ve believed that in-patient hospital care shouldn’t be 100% free to anyone. It costs money to live so why is the State expected to provide all your meals and accommodation for free while you’re in hospital? Everyone should contribute but it should be in keeping with income. If everyone was expected to contribute directly towards their own care, I guarantee you that it would very quickly put a stop to wastage and abuse of the system. Just think of the enormous savings for the health service. There tends to be a mentality out there that says once someone else is paying, it doesn’t matter how much it costs. That’s got to come to an end. I think I’ll have to blog about this in due course as it’s been a bee in my bonnet for a long time!

    Thanks for bringing it to the fore.

  9. Laura says:

    yeah money for leather chairs… you know in the public system a good bath chair or an extra chair for a visitor is sometimes hard to come by. I find the ever widening gap between public and private a huge worry.

  10. Steph says:

    Hi Laura

    I think because you and I have seen a fair amount of both sides of the divide, we’re well placed to comment on how wrong it all feels.

    The doctors who work in both public and private medicine, know full well it’s wrong too but nobody is willing to buck the system. It must be possible to find some middle ground so that everybody gets treated with the dignity they deserve. Sadly, with the way things are going with our health service right now, that gap is ever widening.

  11. Mike says:

    Couldn’t agree more steph
    The word dignity sums it up for me
    People need to start talking more about this and start getting angry before the gap gets even wider
    If a society doesn’t treat its senior citizens with the upmost respect and dignity they deserve then it is fu**ed!

    Wheres the dignity in someone having to travel miles on bumpy roads for cancer treatment

  12. Steph says:

    I can tell you, Mike

    You need a good sense of humour to survive our health service. The conditions are so bad in some hospitals, you’d crack up if you weren’t able to laugh.

    I agree that having to travel long distances for cancer treatment must be awful when you’re feeling unwell but if you knew that your chances of survival were improved by travelling to a centre of excellence, then I don’t think your dignity would take priority.

  13. Mike says:

    Hi Steph

    Having spent numerous days with an elderly relative in A&E and watching then lie on a trolley with little or no dignity. their back sore from the duration on the trolley you get a fairly good insight into the state of the health service

    Mabey if more people experienced the reality of the health service first hand and shout about its failings the goverment might sit up and take notice

  14. Steph says:

    This last comment has been deleted by the author.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: