Vive la France

October 17, 2008

Okay, so here’s how the Irish health service could/should operate if it was properly resourced and managed. The following article was published in the Irish Times and documents the experience of an Irish person who required emergency care in a hospital in France.  I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Vive la Différence

“No waiting room, no trolleys, no queues, no admission fee and free parking. It was very strange indeed”, writes Michael Foley

“It is 1.30 in the morning, the first night of the annual Feria, when Beziers, in the south of France, goes en fete for a week of partying. Getting to A&E through streets thronging with revellers is a feat in itself, but arriving at the hospital is an even more unusual experience.

I rushed to hospital, with what later turned out to be a blocked artery.

Where is the waiting room? And where are all the corridor trolleys gone? Well, there is no waiting room and no queue, no line of people drunk or groaning with pain, and facing a 12-hour wait, just a woman at a desk and a sliding door that lets you straight into your own single-occupancy examination room. Parking is free and there is no €60 admission fee either.

Very strange indeed. It is so strange that we waste valuable time assuming we are at the wrong place. Why no waiting area? Goodness me, said a French nurse, urgence, the French name for the A&E, means someone requires urgent treatment; you could hardly expect someone in need of immediate treatment to wait, now could you?

It has to be said that when I last attended a Dublin hospital, eight months previously, I did not have to wait either. As I pointed to my heart and handed over the €60 casualty charge, a wheelchair almost buckled my knees as it wheeled me into triage, but behind me were others who would be waiting and waiting and waiting – unlucky enough not to have chest pain.

Back in Beziers, and two-and-a-half hours later, I had blood taken, a brain scan, a chest X-ray, and all the test results returned, and was tucked up in bed. At no stage did I see anyone on a trolley in a corridor.

Trolleys were used to ferry people. Patients slept in beds. My room, in a public ward, was for two patients, with a toilet and shower en suite. The equipment was new and worked. The bed was high-tech and moved in almost every direction.

What followed were days of tests, done without delay, and all ordered by specialists, who personally delivered results, usually within the hour. I was given scans, X-rays, MRIs and investigations I thought I might have been given eight months previously in Dublin. “Should I have had this test before?”

The doctor was non-committal.

The first specialist was a neurologist. The Centre Hospitalier de Beziers has three (as opposed to a dozen for the whole of Ireland). The doctor was a quiet, respectful woman who was available throughout the day, and who delivered the test results she herself ordered.

There was no entourage, no one to fawn and laugh at her jokes. She even had office hours when family could call in for information or advice – no need for intervention, divine or otherwise here.

We kept checking as to her status with the nurses, because her availability was akin to that of a registrar or a junior doctor in an Irish hospital, but yes, she was everything one could possibly want in one’s neurologist – professional, available and attentive. Extraordinarily, if a test was required, it was done immediately, and she delivered and discussed the results in person.

The second specialist, a vascular surgeon, again was one of three. When surgery was decided, I was moved to another floor and opted for a private room. Cost €40 a night.

Surgery was successful and after a period of recovery, I was out. When discharged, I was given a slip that was officially stamped, this is France after all, and that was it; I paid not one cent.

Under the EU health insurance regulations, I received the same treatment as a French person – 80 per cent of the cost borne by the state – and like a French person, my insurance (in my case, the VHI) paid the rest, including the cost of the private room.

One of the most remarkable features of the hospital was the level of hygiene. And not a nun in sight. The corridors were completely clear. The cleaning trolleys, with their colour coded buckets for every individual surface, plied up and down the corridors.

Masks and sprays were used as appropriate, from one patient to another. Head-to-toe disinfection twice before surgery . . .

In the Dublin hospital I attended recently, there was one shower for some 50 patients. This was in a room with a bath fitted out for disabled use. There were cracked tiles around the shower. The bath/shower room was also used as a store. If you were able to walk, you washed and shaved at a row of washhand basins, like a 1960s boarding school.

The VHI was amazing, constantly phoning me and my wife to see if I was alright. Did I want a second opinion? Was I was satisfied with the doctor? Was everything explained adequately? It also had a French-speaking doctor contact the hospital doctors who came back to explain what was going to happen.

Isn’t it extraordinary that the VHI pays no such attention to the interests or concerns of their members in Irish hospitals?

Would I have returned home for treatment if it had been feasible? Not if the advice I was given was to be taken seriously. Proof of the serious lack of confidence there is in the health service in Ireland was evident in the number of calls I had, from friends, colleagues and family, telling me how lucky I was to be sick in France and not Ireland: “Stay where you are. It’s the best place to be.”

If I returned, they thought, I might not get a bed, and if I did, I would be at risk from MRSA. “MRSA is a given,” said one friend, whose mother recently contracted it.

For the next two weeks, a local nurse visited to clean the scar and eventually remove the staples holding the surgical opening together. Cost for a home visit, €5.50 a day. But it is not just money that is the main difference between the two systems as experienced by patients. I was treated as a critically ill patient, the same as if I were French, by nurses, doctors, specialists and home visits,

I even have a GP in France now, who gave me a free consultation, just to get to know me. I only hope we don’t get to know each other too well.”

With thanks to the Irish Times for their online publication.


Mary, Mary, quite contrary

May 1, 2007

So the talks between the INO, the PNA and the HSE continue at a painfully slow pace – at a painful cost of €2 million (of our hard-earned taxes) per week apparently to the HSE and of course also, at the expense of patient services across the country. And our Minister for Health continues to alienate all around her in the Health Service, her latest target being the VHI.

The Government announced proposals last week to reform VHI. Part of this plan is to be achieved by bringing forward the deadline for VHI to meet normal solvency requirements from 2012 to the end of 2008. As anticipated, VHI are unhappy and their trade union, Amicus, are looking to the State to provide the injection of funds required. As a member of VHI since age 18 (and I’m no spring chicken I can assure you) I feel entitled to ask the following questions:-

Why does VHI pay in full for all elective investigative in-patient stays? Surely when something is elective it means that it is by choice and therefore the patient should carry some responsibility. It strikes me that there are an awful lot of private patients choosing (perhaps with encouragement from their private consultant) to opt to have their investigations carried out as an in-patient because all expenses will be paid in full. Why trek around the place having out-patient tests which have to be paid for up front by the patient (and will only be partially re-imbursed at the end of the subscription year) when VHI is prepared to fully fund you as an in-patient in a private hospital with an á la carte menu to boot. And in the words of Garret FitzGerald, Irish Times 28/04/07, there is presently an “unseemly haste in pushing private healthcare”.

The same principle applies to out-patient scans such as MRI’s and CT’s. The VHI has a direct payment scheme in place with many of the new private hospitals settling the bill directly with VHI so that the private patient doesn’t even see the cost of the procedure. Why would a private patient opt to have a good old-fashioned x-ray which still costs good old-fashioned money when the option to have an MRI or CT is available to them free of charge. Surely this is madness and is ‘bleeding’ VHI to death?

So no surprise then that the annual subscription rates continue to rise and rise. I could go on and on.

Oh Mary, Mary, quite contrary – how does your VHI grow?