Waiting Times (11 Days To Election)

I had an experience with Ireland’s healthcare system during the term of the 31st Dail.

It was a football injury. Super amateur football I assure you. Playing one day, I felt a pain in my left knee while stretching for a ball. I thought I must have pulled something – wouldn’t be the first time – and played on through the slight discomfort and went home, limping slightly.

The next day, when I got out of bed to hit the alarm on the other end of the room, I nearly wound up on the floor when my knee gave out. That was the first indication that something was more seriously wrong. It took a long time – too long, but that was my own insistence that “It’s probably nothing” taken to a moronic extreme – for me to finally do something about it.

That meant a trip to a GP, which meant a referral to an MRI centre, which discovered a partial tear of my cartilage. That meant a referral to a specialist, which meant an eventual date for surgery, which meant a visit to an operating theatre. It took over seven months from my first step inside my GP’s office to surgery, and another month or so for recovery, during which time I just lived with the discomfort and the irritating requirement that I engage in no exercise more complicated than walking.

Of course, on the list of medical problems, this one was pretty minor. My life and livelihood wasn’t threatened, my insurance covered most of the cost, and today my knee is as good as it has ever been, for the most part. But the whole experience did give me a look at how backed up the system is in Ireland, and an idea of how much worse off others must be, with much more serious ailments. Here, I’m going to take a look at the parties’ statements on waiting times in our healthcare system, and offer comment on what I make of them.

The usual disclaimer on manifestos to be released applies. You all knew the election was coming, and some complained about the government drawing it out. Why weren’t the manifestos ready to go?

Fine Gael’s economic plan has nothing on waiting times specifically, just vague commitments to improving the health service. Members of the party have promised “strict new waiting times targets”. And that’s it. For now. Hmm. Not exactly thrilling stuff from the senior government party.

Edit 14/2/16: Fine Gael’s very late manifesto includes a commitment to new “annual performance targets” in each Hospital Group or Trust in regards waiting times.

Labour’s budget document (still no sniff of a proper manifesto from them) has a section detailing the many facets of the financial injections being directed at the HSE in the coming years. I’m sure if carried out it would have a decent effect on waiting times. If.

Edit 15/2/16: Labour’s very, very late manifesto has a commitment to “recruit 5’500 healthcare professionals to reduce waiting lists”

Fianna Fail is the first party to have “waiting times” as a topic in their manifesto. They commit to an “international standard” of three to six months through a purchase fund, more staff and a vague commitment to enact a special task force to improve the HSE. At least it’s the structure of a plan, even if it seems like an elaborated “throw money we might not have at it”.

Sinn Fein’s manifesto merely commits to “reducing waiting times” in the health service, at one point suggesting that an unabolished USC could be used to achieve this. Somehow.

The AAA-PBP’s “Common Principles” – the closest the entity has to a unified manifesto – calls for the creation of a National Health Service, but makes no mention of waiting times specifically.

Renua’s manifesto makes no mention of waiting times specifically, but does have a very lengthy and detailed health section, that I can’t really sum up quickly. Some good ideas in all of it though, and I commend them for actually making a bigger effort than the established parties.

The Social Democrats too have a lengthy section on health care, that mirrors some of the same points made by Renua, and has actually includes specific suggestions to reduce waiting times, including “out of hours’ minor injury units in the community, improved diagnostic technology in hospitals and step-down facilities for patients that need medical supervision but not necessarily hospital care”. Good stuff, that ties back into their commitment to improve quality of living and not slash taxes.

Similarly, the Greens’ manifesto includes commitments to increase access to the medical care outside of hospitals, through public nursing and internet/telephone services, that would help alleviate the crisis in the health service, but they make no mention of waiting times specifically.

Overall, it’s fairly disappointing stuff from the larger parties, but better from the smaller ones. Part of me suspects that Fine Gael and Labour don’t want to commit to too much, lest they fail to make good on it, while Fianna Fai are led by a man who knows all too well the problems within the health service, and is probably of the same mind. And Sinn Fein are happy to keep things vague but optimistic. It is the smaller parties – bar the usual simplicity from AAA-PBP – that the task of more complicated policy falls, and I find myself surprised by how, well, surprised I am at how much Renua’s manifesto appeals to me in certain areas. They, and the Social Democrats and Greens to a slightly lesser extent, have done their homework, and gave me food for thought.

That doesn’t mean I’m voting for them mind, but you have to give praise where its due. In the end, looking up party health plans is as depressing a task as looking up tax policies, as you come to realise that the system is so wounded that it will take more than a continuation or change of government to fix it.

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