Be Good!

February 25, 2010


A Life of Struggle

October 12, 2008

Do you remember the drug thalidomide?  It was first launched in 1957 by a German company, Grunenthal.  It was sold in 46 countries and marketed to pregnant women around the world as an anti-morning sickness pill.  The drug was banned in the early 1960’s after it was found to cause deformed limbs in the children of women who took it in early pregnancy.  Around 10,000 babies around the world were born with defects caused by the drug, ranging from malformed limbs to no arms or legs.  An estimated 3,500 survive worldwide, and 31 of these are in Ireland.

Thalidomide sufferers are a tenacious bunch of people. They have lived all their lives  with pain and disability and now as they enter their 40’s and 50’s, they are noticing a sharp deterioration in their physical condition and want the government to improve their ‘meagre’ compensation. In 1975 a settlement was made with the Irish government which comprised of a lump sum and a monthly pension for life to supplement the compensation awarded by the German government, which eventually accepted liability.  While Irish authorities never accepted liability for the tragedy, the Department of Health was the regulatory authority for drugs when it was on the pharmacy shelves. The lump sums at the time, when those affected were around 12 years old, amounted to a few thousand euro.  Depending on the level of disability, the pension now ranges from €16-€35 per day.  A lot of sufferers are now in crisis and are having to leave work or are struggling on in jobs they can’t afford to leave.  They are facing difficult life choices and need financial security as they struggle against rapid decline.

Governments all over Europe are sitting down with those affected by thalidomide to sort out a proper financial package and Irish survivors are hoping that the Department of Health will look sympathetically on their case.  The Irish Thalidomide Association hasn’t gone back to the government for support in 33 years.  Surely it’s not too much to ask that they should now be afforded the dignity and justice they so rightly deserve?

With thanks to Roisin Ingle of the Irish Times, for her informative article on this topic.


Risk Equalisation

July 18, 2008

Does that affect me? The answer could be ‘”Yes”. ‘If you are old/suffering from a long-term medical condition then this week’s ruling in the Supreme Court could well end up costing you a great deal more for health insurance cover.

Risk equalisation is a scheme to ensure that community rating is implemented whereby everyone, young and old, sick or healthy, pays the same premium. It is a scheme that provides for insurance companies with fewer elderly subscribers to compensate other companies who have higher numbers of medically vulnerable subscribers. This week, the Supreme Court struck down legislation which our government had in place to ensure that risk equalisation was enforced. Up until now, this legislation placed restrictions on other insurers thereby restricting competition within the private health insurance market. The VHI is the longest serving health insurance provider and carries the largest number of elderly customers. It currently holds a monopoly with 70 percent of the health insurance market and as the state insurer, was protected up until now by risk equalisation. This week’s decision is without doubt, an embarrassment for the government and it may have serious consequences for the VHI and it’s subscribers. A more detailed explanation of the situation can be found here in this week’s online edition of The Irish Medical Times.

Competition is good but a balance has to be found whereby those most vulnerable in our society are not squeezed out of the private health insurance market. This latest development potentially represents a big upset to our Minister for Health’s plans to privatise the health service. Her future in the Department of Health, is looking more than a little bleak.


Why, Oh Why?

July 2, 2008

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?


Anyone for Tennis?

June 24, 2008

Yes, it’s that time of year again. For the next two weeks, I shall be glued to the television screen at every available opportunity, watching the Ladies Singles draw unfold. This year, my money’s on the Serbian player, Ana Ivanovic to win the title. She’s the top seed and the world No. 1 player having just won her first Grand Slam at the French Open, so she’s got it all going for her.

I’ve been hooked on Ladies tennis for as long as I can remember. I used to love playing the game myself but my funny joints (EDS) put a stop to play so these days, I merely enjoy it as a spectator sport. Last year, I made my first ever trip to Wimbledon to see the real thing. I booked the flights in advance of my operation in March so that I’d have the trip to look forward to after the surgery. It was a fantastic experience but now that I’ve done it, I’m happy to watch the Championships from the comfort of my own home. In all of the many years I’ve had surgery, I’ve never managed to time it right so that I can really put my feet up to enjoy the tennis. My family always groan when Wimbledon fortnight arrives as meals have to wait their turn. Even blogging is likely to suffer so don’t say you weren’t warned!

I’ve just dropped my daughter off to the airport for an early morning flight to the sun. She’s knows better than to stick around when Wimbledon is on. It’s every man for himself for the next two weeks. Perhaps my marriage vows should have read “For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and for Wimbledon.”


Hole in the Head

June 15, 2008

When it comes to medical emergencies, it could be said that I’m a bit of an old-timer. You see, I have a long history of emergency admissions to hospital and friends and family tend to joke me about it. I never quite know what lies around the next corner but as the saying goes, “if you’ve gotta do it, at least do it in style.” I do my best.

No one pays much attention to their sinuses until they start to hurt. I’ve suffered from sinusitis all my life so headaches are commonplace but pregnancy really exacerbated the problem. The hormones of pregnancy can have a direct effect on the lining of the sinuses and in my case, it left behind a real legacy. Having successfully delivered my second child after a pregnancy fraught with difficulties, I continued to have severe sinus headaches. A CT scan revealed that an abscess had developed in the frontal sinus, very close to the base of my brain. Endoscopic surgery was carried out to drain the abscess and the relief was instantaneous. However some months later, the pain began to slowly return again until one day I awoke in so much pain, I knew I was in real trouble. On calling our family GP to the house, he immediately decided that emergency treatment was required and contacted the surgeon who had previously operated on my head. The surgeon was in the operating theatre at the time but the hospital he was in, did not have the surgical instruments he required for my head. He recommended that I should be transferred to another larger hospital by ambulance to await his arrival. I was duly rushed to hospital and taken straight to theatre to be prepared for emergency surgery on my skull. Despite being in severe pain, I have a vivid memory of lying on the operating table while one of the theatre nurses took a call detailing the ETA of the surgeon and his anaesthetist as they both rushed across the city to come to my rescue. The drama of the occasion resembled a scene from Casualty except that there was nothing fictional about this episode.  It was all too real.

I awoke several hours later feeling decidedly frail having had several holes drilled in my skull to relieve the pressure. The surgeon appeared looking totally exhausted and announced that he’d needed my emergency operation about as much as “a hole in the head.” I knew exactly how that felt. It hurt to laugh but it was hard not too.


The Road to Recovery?

May 31, 2008

This evening a debate is due to take place in Seanad Éireann to discuss the future of the HSE. Last week, the Labour Party announced a set of proposals to reform the HSE. It has now put forward a motion to the Seanad seeking it’s support in facilitating reform of how healthcare is delivered in Ireland.

Senator Alex White leader of the Labour group in the Seanad writes “The motion is not a personal attack on the Minister, the Government or anyone else, nor is it a retreading of old arguments; it is comprised of a positive set of proposals regarding how the HSE can be reformed.”

The wording of the motion and the Labour Party’s six step recovery plan can be found here.

You can learn more about the Labour’s plans for reforming the HSE by clicking here.

Having listened to RTE’s recent Prime Time investigation into the HSE where our health service was described as a poorly integrated, fragmented, poorly structured, inadequately resourced, appallingly planned service, I think the HSE would do well to take heed of some positive suggestions.

I welcome any debate which facilitates the best way forward for our health service. Otherwise the road ahead looks depressingly bleak.