Guilt and Optimism

Guilt and optimism can be good things. Only the psychopathic mind feels no guilt at all, and when we do wrong, that wrong is mitigated if we can feel some guilt over our actions. Guilt can make us do things differently, and channel us into making reparations for our wrong-doing.

Likewise, most of us will take actions with a sense of optimism. How else can one explain the widespread sale of lottery tickets? We all hope that, against the impossible odds, we will succeed. It’s a pleasant little daydream to think we can achieve huge success with little effort, but we still indulge ourselves.

But however we choose to act as individuals, as a society we shouldn’t have guilt or wild optimism at the heart of our decision-making process. Continue reading »

Pick up your mat and walk

There are many ‘miracles’ quoted in the Bible and they are rightly described as ‘miracles’, in the sense that they defy all reasoning. The Bible, no matter how deep one’s faith, is not, however, a scientific paper. When Jesus said to the lame man ‘Pick up your mat and walk’, there were no doctors on-site to prove that (a) the man was lame to begin with and (b) that other people could be cured in the same fashion.

We live in an age though, when Biblical miracles are possible – not through any divine intervention – but rather through the application of medical science that is, in itself, the product of many years of human scientific endeavor. How else can one explain the news that a paralysed man in the United Kingdom can now walk again? Continue reading »

Ebola and Obama – what’s the connection?

While the rest of us try to think rationally about the possible spread of the Ebola virus, it would seem that that strange mental construct that is the American right is trying to make the whole thing President Barack Obama’s fault.

Funny that. As I was writing ‘President Obama’, I realised that while, to the right, Bush was always ‘President’ Bush when he was in office, and the right still refer to him as ‘ex-President Bush’ they refer to their current President as ‘Obama’. Continue reading »

Fear of Ebola only happens when it shows up next door

The Ebola river is a tributary of the Zaire river and it gives its name to the deadly virus discovered in 1976. It was discovered after the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp received a sample from a Belgian nun who had died, in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and who had been diagnosed with yellow fever.

But when Peter Piot discovered the new virus, he never imagined it could spread to become today’s world-wide epidemic and what he calls the ‘humanitarian crisis’ it is now. He blames the spread of the virus on a ‘perfect storm’ of troubles in West Africa – decades of civil wars, health services barely worthy of the name, limited medical resources and a slow and sluggish global response. Continue reading »

Are you getting the most out of music?

Look! - no speakers anywhere

Look! – no speakers anywhere

Whenever I mention to someone that ‘I play a little music’, they usually respond with affirmations that they, too, either ‘like’ music, or they ‘love’ music. Some say: ‘Music is my life’. And while I don’t doubt anyone’s sincerity in this regard, I wonder if that’s true. I wonder if they put much or any effort into listening to music, that is to say, that they are an active rather than a passive listener.

Unfortunately, for many musicians, it turns out that most listen passively. By that I mean that while they might spend a great deal of time listening to music on the radio or online, they rarely make the effort to listen to live music, and if they do, it is to music that they have heard many, many times before, from musicians who have been playing more or less the same thing for thirty, forty or fifty years. Continue reading »

Too long a sacrifice…

Today’s guest column comes from Liam Farrell, columnist, broadcaster, ex-general practitioner.

Some years ago, on a hospice locum, I made a point of visiting the day room as often as I could. It was a source of wonder; whenever I looked in it would be humming with activity. In one corner, a sing-song would be in session, with a volunteer accompanying on piano; in another corner, set up as a little coffee shop, there were animated discussions going on at every table. Outside, the minibus, driven by another volunteer, was drawing up, and some residents burst in the door full of news about their guided trip around the Botanic Gardens. It was a place where death was not considered an enemy. Continue reading »

What now for general practice after the Budget?

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar

So the Budget has come and gone and there has been no major transfer of funds to primary care or general practice, or even any firm indication that it will happen any time soon. This is exactly as I predicted here, but for those who are struggling to make a living as general practitioners, it is not yet a case of ‘abandon hope all ye who enter general practice’.

Yes, the arguments have been well made, and the practical case for siphoning a little bit of the flood of money towards a cheaper, more effective primary care service has not been acted upon, so it might seem – on first impression – that Minister Varadkar is cut from much the same stalk as Minister Reilly. It might seem that he is as intent as Minister Reilly was in maintaining the status quo.

Continue reading »

Nalaxone availability will save lives

Last week, the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, announced that the drug Naloxone would now be routinely available in Ireland. In our first guest blog on, a leading drug treatment expert examines the effects that the introduction of the drug will have in Ireland.  Dr Cathal ó Súilliobháin believes it will save the lives of many young people.

Fatalities as a consequence of drug use are a major cause of death in young people. In most European countries the numbers of young people dying as a result of drug use has been decreasing in the last few years.

However, in Ireland, it has been increasing. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, we have the third worst record in Europe, with a death rate of 70 per million compared to a European average of 17. Continue reading »

How to make an extra €41,000 from the HSE

What, exactly is a Clinical Director in the Irish Health system and what do they do? I’ve asked this question before in another HSE, so I can examine it in detail.

It’s an important question, now that Dr Susan Reilly has become one of the most important leaders in the health service as the chief executive of the Dublin and Midlands Hospital Group. She will be paid €219,993 for this task – along with the very very generous perks and pensions that come with the job.

But she will also continue to be paid her ‘allowance’ as a Clinical Director. Continue reading »

The Priest and the Pauper

I grew up in a small village in the Irish midlands in the 1970s, and though life at that time was not as idyllic as perhaps it seemed then, it was, at the time, a pretty nice childhood.

I was perhaps lucky in the sense that my family weren’t poor, but we weren’t particularly rich either. My father was the local GP (family doctor) and he had status in the community because of that, but there was very little money about and very few private patients, so he survived on the minimal salary provide by the local health authority. Continue reading »