Don’t believe me if I tell you not a word of this is true

The great Phil Lynott is responsible for the title of this piece. It could double as a motto for this blog. I started this online project with the intention of trying to tell the actual truth (as I saw it) about the health service and hopefully, to encourage others to do the same.

And when some other journalists do that – when they lift the garbage can lid and expose what’s really going on – then it’s more important for me to draw attention to their work than try to compete with my own two cents.

The two journalists that have done that in the last few days are Susan Mitchell of the Sunday Business Post and Michael Clifford of The Irish Examiner. You can read Michael’s excellent piece on Philomena Canning here. Unfortunately, the SBP don’t like to have their work re-published on the Net, so I can only give you a summary of what Susan was saying in the SBP here.

Before we get into all that though, I want to explain why some people actually believe these things don’t happen.

My father was a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WWll. He was in North Africa and later served in Italy during the Allied invasion. Many years after the war had ended, he made a special effort to visit Auschwitz because he found it so hard to believe that the Germans could engage in such brutality.

His problem had been that in dealing with refugees and wounded soldiers, he had always found the Germans to be honorable people. Unlike some of the random cruelties perpetrated by others, the German officers and soldiers had – in his experience – behaved with decorum.

This is not that unusual. The Wehrmacht was not the SS. They were not necessarily Nazis. They were, as they saw it, soldiers fighting for their country. And they behaved accordingly. But just because you don’t see it doesn’t make it true.

Does the HSE manipulate waiting lists? Oh please! Of course they do. But there are two ‘truths’ here. Does the HSE want to do anything substantial to change the waiting lists paradigm and provide services to all or is it just in the business of preventing the lists from getting ‘too bad’.

It is the latter, of course.

Some medical friends of mine in addiction services tried at one stage to draw attention to the fact that there were hundreds of heroin addicts in the midlands who needed urgent treatment. They brought this matter to Roisin Shortall – who was then a junior Minister in the Department of Health. She duly passed on the information to her officials, and then, what did they do?

They called the 200 or so ‘addicts’ to ‘check’ that the figures were right. And, of course they weren’t. Addicts live chaotic lives – never knowing from day-to-day whether they’ll have a home or shelter. The list was over two years old as many addicts had waited that long on a list.

And what happened? The addicts had moved on. In some cases, they had given a mobile phone as a contact point, but the phone didn’t last more than a few days – let alone two years.

So the officials were able to come back to Roisin Shortall and claim there was no problem and nothing needed to be done. And this kind of thing happens all the time. People who work in health services know this on one level, but when someone like Susan Mitchell can prove it, then it puts pressure on the HSE to change their behaviour.

Michael Clifford is one of Ireland’s finest journalists if only for the fact that he ‘afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted’. You won’t see him writing about how beggars on the street are going to break the country, but you will see him say that about bankers, politicians and powerful people.

And without people like Michael, people like Philomena Canning would be pushed back into obscurity. Most of you will know the story but if you didn’t read it above, I’d urge you to read it here.

Those of us who have any experience of the health service and the real world know what’s going on here. Babies die in hospital all the time but investigations are limited. This was a case where nobody died, nobody was even hurt, yet it had to end up in the High Court.

Why was such thoroughness employed with Philomena Canning? Was it a case of using the tactic of throwing enough mud at the wall in the hope that some of it would stick? Was it a case of the HSE targeting someone professionally because they had the temerity to speak out about the real problems in the health service?

You can make up your own mind on that. But in my experience, it’s easy for any large organisation to marginalise and discredit any individual and sometimes things that look like a duck, things that quack like a duck, well, the HSE are ducks in this case. Right ducks.

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I’ll be writing about mental health in Ireland on Friday and if anyone wants to contact me with their view on that subject, please do. In the meantime, here’s the aforementioned Phil Lynott with some good advice on the health service in Ireland. Click this link and the song will be in your head all day. And that’s a good thing.

Don’t believe a Word.

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