Two weeks ago, at a meeting of the Oireachtas select sub-committee on Health, James Reilly presented the Revised Estimates for 2014 for the Department of Health and for the HSE.
Since he came into office, every time he was challenged about his handling of our health services by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Sinn Féin, Minister Reilly said - Sinn Féin are only interested in process, I'm interested in outcomes. This is the Minister's mantra and like so much else with him - it's pure deflection.
The Minister's opening contribution made reference to the OECD's Health at a Glance report from 2013. Improvements in health outcomes were noted. Life expectancy is up, and death rates due to certain diseases are down. These improvements are very welcome, but as is usual, they’re only one small part of the whole story.
The fact of the matter, and this is borne out by a thorough analysis of the OECD's report, is that our health service has fundamental organisational, structural and systemic deficiencies.
By the end of 2014 there will have been 4 billion euros taken from the state's health budget since 2008. More than 15,000 staff will have been taken out of the service since Sept 2007. Only one country in the OECD fairs worse - Greece!
In terms of healthcare infrastructure - doctors per population, hospital beds per population – Ireland fairs poorly.
In terms of medical outcomes - cervical and breast cancer 5 year survival rates, incidences of postoperative pulmonary embolism and postoperative sepsis in adults – we are the highest in the OECD. The tragic case of Savita Halapannavar brought great attention to the management of patients with sepsis. After 15 months, and 2 separate investigations, recommendations still haven't been implemented.
We don't have enough beds, we don't have enough doctors, we don’t have enough ambulances or paramedics; promised mental health posts remain unfilled, including those to support vulnerable children and adolescents. The list goes on, and on and on.
All of these deficiencies are real and they have a profound effect on outcomes. They contribute, in no small part, to the tragic failings in the standard of care which led to the death of four children at Portlaoise Hospital.
James Reilly is playing a bluffers game, and as long he continues the Irish people will suffer. He would do well to learn that the objective isn't to spin his way through the next media interview or exchange in the Dáil chamber or Health Committee. It's about delivering a health service that people can have absolute faith and confidence in. This applies as much to those who work in the system as it does to those who use it. It's about deliverying a health service that perfoms amongst the best in the world, one that's not 20 years behind.
Fundamentally, it's about delivering a health service with equality at it's core, a service that we can all be truly proud of.
Sinn Féin are very much interested in outcomes, and that one in particular. A change of Minister, and a change of Government, would go some way to seeing it realised.