Stay Warm

November 30, 2008


Driving home on Friday evening in the freezing fog and rapidly falling temperatures, I decided to stop off and treat myself to a new woolly hat. Did you know that over 2000 older people in Ireland die every winter from cold related illnesses? Many elderly people cannot afford enough food or warmth to stay fit and healthy. And that’s exactly why I stopped to buy this sweet little hat.

Do you remember the big knit campaign?  innocent drinks, the company that makes those delicious smoothies, came up with a clever campaign to get folks up and down the land to knit little hats for their smoothie bottles. Lots of Irish celebrities lent their support to the campaign by designing some little woolly hats which you can see showcased here.


The money raised from the big knit goes to Age Action Ireland who provide support to older people including care and repair programmes and advice on how to keep their houses warm. For every behatted bottle sold, they – that’s Topaz and innocent drinks – will give €1 to Age Action to help look after older people in Ireland this winter.  They are hoping to raise €20,000 to donate to Age Action but they need your help to do it.

So what are you waiting for? The weather is really cold at the moment and I’m sure there are many old people out there who need help to stay warm. The next time you see a Topaz filling station, drop in and buy an innocent smoothie with a hat on. As the saying goes… every little helps!

A Health Warning

November 29, 2008

Your mother was right when she told you…


“NEVER swallow your bubble gum!”

Antibiotic Abuse

November 27, 2008


The HSE has recently launched a three week awareness campaign Get better without antibiotics to highlight the importance of using antibiotics properly. Ireland is one of only three EU countries showing an increasing use of antibiotics.  Recent Irish research shows that medical card holders (30% of the population) account for over 50% of antibiotic use. Antibiotics are not the solution for common colds, coughs or flu; they are effective only against bacterial infections.

Dr. Robert Cunney, Consultant Microbiologist at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), says “Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed may mean that they won’t work when you really need them for a serious infection.   The more antibiotics we use, the more bacteria (germs) can change so that the antibiotics don’t work any more. These bacteria are said to be “antibiotic resistant” and are much harder to treat and can spread to other people. We are using more and more antibiotics each year in Ireland and are seeing more infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria as a result.  We must take steps to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use.  Otherwise we risk squandering one of the most important medical advances of the past 100 years.”

Key things to remember:

  • Most common infections don’t need antibiotics.
  • Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections – they cannot help against common colds, coughs or flu.
  • Taking antibiotics when they are not needed puts your health and your family’s health at risk.
  • If your doctor decides that you need an antibiotic make sure you take it exactly as prescribed
  • Misuse of antibiotics only causes bacteria to become resistant to antibiotic treatments and when antibiotics are needed in the future they may not work.
  • Antibiotics often give side effects such as diarrhoea, nausea and skin rashes.
  • Always seek a doctor’s advice before taking antibiotics.

Further information can be found on the HSE website.

It was the radio advertisement for this awareness campaign that caught my attention. I’d be interested to hear your comments on it.

A Deadly Wait

November 21, 2008


Bowel cancer is Ireland’s second biggest cancer killer yet it’s very treatable if caught early.  Despite this, a 1,000 people are waiting six months or more for a colonoscopy to detect the disease.  The result is that 50% of patients are being diagnosed with late stage cancer leaving them at best, facing invasive and expensive treatments or at worst, a death sentence.

In Ireland, one in 28 of us have a lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer.  Ireland lags behind many European countries when it comes to survival rates.  Part of the reason why our survival rates are so low is because public patients can wait excessively long times for colonoscopy appointments. The key to making a diagnosis of colon cancer is a colonoscopy.

Last night, Prime Time gave this scandal the coverage it’s deserves.  Here’s a link to what Conor MacLiam, husband of the late Susie Long, had to say on the programme…

If this clip fails to play (following the short advertisement), click on the address bar and it should work!

Conor MacLiam, Susie Long’s husband, says he is very concerned for the people that are in urgent need of a colonoscopy

If you’re worried about bowel cancer you can call:-

National Cancer Helpline: 1800 200 700


National Treatment Purchase Fund: 1890 720 820

Let’s Get Talking!

November 20, 2008


I wrote a post the other day to highlight the continuing scandal of the unacceptable waiting times in our health service, pointing out that it’s ‘Time for Change’.  The response was a deafening silence bar one comment from an ardent Aussie blogger, Baino, who has the balls and the ability to speak out about injustice whenever she sees it. I know that people are probably sick of listening to me harping on about healthcare problems  but I happen to believe that if you don’t make your voice heard, the scandalous state of our health service will continue unabated. People tend to say nothing until/unless it affects their own lives. Trouble is, by then it’s probably too late.

The point I’m really trying to make is that it’s time we had a proper debate on the way forward for the health service. There seems to be almost universal agreement that our Minister for Health, Mary Harney is going in the wrong direction in her attempts to reform the health service yet no one is shouting STOP! The only people who seem to approve of Harney’s measures, are her buddies in cabinet and the muppets in the HSE and we all know why that is. It’s openly acknowledged that the health portfolio is a bum job and that Harney is the only one willing to tackle it but she’s made a balls of the job and it’s time someone tackled her. Harney’s policies are clearly not working but because no-one else wants the job, she’s allowed to continue. It’s patently obvious that she needs pointing in a new direction but to achieve this, we have to first agree on the best way forward.

For starters, the HSE needs to be disbanded. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare that is soaking up funds intended for frontline services and Harney should have got rid of it years ago. We should instead, utilise the brains of the top entrepreneurs in this country to motivate a change in direction. We need more consultation with those who work at the frontline of healthcare, to help devise tangible ways to solve the problems. Our health service has a fantastic wealth of expertise but it’s being thwarted at every turn by cutbacks and morale has reached an all-time low. It’s time to take the politics out of healthcare and to put back the pride in our health service.

I firmly believe that it’s not too late to stop the rot but this won’t happen unless people put their heads together to turn the situation around. The only way to get the health service back on track is if everyone pulls together to make it happen. I urge you to make your voice heard but please don’t wait until it’s too late!

Thanks Baino for stimulating me to shout a bit louder today.

Time For Change

November 17, 2008


I’m sure most people reading this will remember the tragic case of Susie Long from Kilkenny, who died from bowel cancer last year. Susie made headlines when she went public to highlight how she had to wait seven months for a test to her diagnose her illness because she was a public patient. Susie was 41 when she died and her death was directly attributable to a long delay on a waiting list. Shortly afterwards, our Minister for Health admitted that the health service had failed Susie. So why, a year after Susie’s death, do new figures show that patients still have to wait up to nine months for crucial tests to determine if they have bowel cancer?

“The figures released by the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) yesterday indicate patients can be waiting up to nine months for colonoscopies at Dublin’s Mater hospital, up to eight months at Cork University Hospital, and up to seven months at Sligo and Letterkenny general hospitals.

The data is based on returns provided by the hospitals to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which now manages waiting lists.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer in Ireland after lung cancer. There were 2,184 new cases diagnosed and 924 deaths from the disease in 2005.

The Irish Cancer Society expressed serious concern at the waiting times. It said patients should have a colonoscopy within six weeks of being referred by their GP.

The full Irish Times article can be found here.

Susie Long did her utmost to bring about change.  She bravely used her own personal tragedy to highlight the inequities in the system and her courage was not in vain. A trust fund, called the Susie Long Hospice Fund, has been set up to raise funds to build a hospice in Kilkenny. The trust aims to help as many people as possible to have a calm, peaceful and supportive environment at the end of their lives.  Here’s how you can help.

These latest figures on the waiting lists for colonoscopies, show that little has changed since Susie’s death. People’s lives are still being put at risk by long delays in treatment. Our health service is in disarray and we need agreement on a plan to put it right. It’s time we had a proper debate on the way forward.

The Intelligent Pill

November 13, 2008


Let me introduce you to the next generation of pills. Electronics maker Philips has announced the development of an intelligent pill, the iPill, that has the potential to release drugs exactly where they are needed in the gut. The iPill is a capsule, the same size as a camera pill, that has been designed to be swallowed and to pass through the digestive track naturally. The purpose of the pill is to release medication closer to the source of the problem, in a specific area of the body, resulting in more effective treatment. This development has great future potential.

Digestive tract disorders such as Crohn’s disease, colitis and colon cancer are becoming increasingly common, particularly in the western world. Crohn’s disease and colitis can be treated with drugs, notably steroids, but many of these drugs have adverse and unpleasant side-effects for patients when administered systemically. While capsules containing miniature cameras are already used as diagnostic tools, they lack the ability to deliver drugs. The iPill uses a tiny microprocessor, battery and wireless radio to control a built-in medication reservoir. It has a sensor that gauges acidity in the stomach to determine it’s exact location and can be electronically programmed to control the delivery of medication. By delivering the required drugs directly to the site of disease, dose levels may be lowered and many of the side effects reduced.

Philips, which is one of the world’s biggest hospital equipment providers, will officially present it’s intelligent pill capsule later this month at a scientific meeting in Atlanta. According to the company, the iPill is ready for serial manufacturing despite still being demonstrated as a prototype.

This fascinating new development brings great hope for the future. For years, I’ve been struggling with recurrent sinus infections and abscess formation (chronic osteomyelitis) in the frontal bone of my skull. When an infection erupts, high dose systemic antibiotics are required to deliver treatment to a tiny area of my head. Doctors have often commented that one day hopefully, there will be a breakthrough in medical research which will allow for direct drug treatment in specific target areas of the body. This new iPill is the beginning of such technology and while it’s still a long way off solving my problem, it’s a step in the right direction.

They Shall Not Grow Old

November 11, 2008

When I answered a newspaper advert twenty years ago, I could never have imagined how different things would be today. At the time, I was desperately searching for answers and this ad offered my first real glimmer of hope. I was no longer alone, somebody else was in the same boat as myself. Shortly afterwards, the Miscarriage Association of Ireland was born.

When I had my first miscarriage in 1986 (having had a normal first pregnancy ), there was no support network in place despite the fact that every year in Ireland, approximately 14,000 women suffer a miscarriage. I felt very alone and wanted to talk to someone else who’d been through a similar experience. I couldn’t find information anywhere (miscarriage was a taboo subject in those days) so in desperation, I turned to the UK and discovered there was a Miscarriage Association which could provide the support I needed. Unfortunately, the following year I suffered a second miscarriage which left me wondering if I would ever again carry a baby to full term. This time I was determined to do something to correct the lack of support available following miscarriage and that’s when I saw the newspaper ad looking for people willing to form a support group. I contacted the person behind the ad and together we co-founded the Miscarriage Association of Ireland. I’ve long since moved on from the work of the Association but it has continued to go from strength to strength as a fully registered charity.

I was delighted to be invited to a Service of Remembrance last Sunday in St. Teresa’s  Church, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8. Prior to the service, a new memorial stone was unveiled in the grounds of the church to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Association. This stone is dedicated to all babies lost through miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, to honour their memory.


(photo taken on camera phone)

The large church was packed to capacity for the interdenominational service. Every family was invited to light a candle during the service in remembrance of their lost babies. It was incredibly moving to look at all those candles flickering at the altar knowing that each one of them represented a life lost, and to reflect upon what might have been. This beautiful service brought me back to all those years ago when I had yearned to share my grief with others who had suffered a similar loss.


These days there is a full range of support services available through the Miscarriage Association. It has it’s own website and offers a telephone support line to bereaved parents. It holds a monthly meeting where people can meet in a supportive environment and if they wish, they can share their experiences with others who have been through similar experiences. The Association also has a series of specially commissioned Books of Remembrance in which to commemorate babies lost during pregnancy.

Thankfully, the majority of women who suffer pregnancy loss, go on to have successful pregnancies and healthy babies. My next pregnancy did result in another miscarriage but amazingly, it was a twin pregnancy and seven months later, I finally got to bring home a bouncing bundle of joy.

This being Remembrance Day and the 90th anniversary of the ending of the First World War, the words of Laurence Binyon’s poem are particularly close to my heart…

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Did You Hear Her?

November 9, 2008


I thought I was imagining things today when I heard our Minister for Health interviewed on radio following yesterday’s vote to bring the Progressive Democrats party to an end.

When asked on This Week about her own position as Minister for Health, she replied…

“I love the job.  I love being involved in reforming the health service. It’s a difficult and challenging job but I think we’re making enormous success…erm…great progress has been made.”

I nearly choked on my coffee.  Who does she think she’s fooling? The fact that she faltered on the word ‘success’, makes me believe that she’s finally realised the game is up. And not a minute too soon.

You can listen for yourself here.

Harney’s Sick Experiment (HSE)

November 7, 2008

patient-safety-first1Back in the days of smog-filled Dublin, Mary Harney was a much admired politician.  She tackled the problem of pollution by introducing smokeless fuel and with one small stroke of her pen, many lives were changed for the better.  This week, with another small stroke of her pen, she has put value-for-money ahead of people’s lives.  Mary Harney, our Minister for Health, has lost the plot.  It’s time for her to go.

Last year, Mary Harney approved the introduction of a cervical cancer vaccination (HPV) programme for all 12-year old girls in Ireland.  We were told that the programme would significantly reduce overall cervical cancer rates. The cervical cancer vaccination protects against infection by a virus that leads to cervical pre-cancer which ultimately leads to cervical cancer.  This programme was seen as complimentary to the cervical screening programme introduced earlier this year for all women in the 25-50 age bracket. Harney has now decided to put the cervical cancer vaccination programme on-hold. She is prepared to put the health of 27,000 young girls at risk in order to balance her books. Our Minister for Health wants a health service that is based on cost effectiveness. People no longer matter, she is driven by her ideology to privatise healthcare in this country. Harney also announced that the annual health-spending increase of 8-10% per year since 1997, is due to decrease to just over 3% next year. So if you think things are bad now, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Yesterday, a listener on the Ray D’Arcy show suggested a way to let Mary Harney know what we think of her policy.  She suggested that we send emails to the Minister with photos of our daughters expressing our dismay over this decision to deny these girls a vaccine which may prevent them getting cervical cancer in later years.

If you’d like to send a photo of your daughter, the address is minister’ or the Ray D’Arcy show has a link at Today FM where you can send an email directly.

If these pictures don’t make Mary Harney change her mind, then nothing will.  Well done! Gingerpixel.

UPDATE: I omitted to say congrats to Red Mum for getting this campaign off the ground.  Red Mum has some more ideas here on what action you can take to keep this campaign live.  Keep up the pressure on Harney!