Press Release

Radical overhaul of health service essential, Minister tells IMO conference

The health of a people is at least as important a resource as its knowledge or skill base, Micheál Martin, T.D., Minister for Health, today (14 April, 2000) told the Irish Medical Organisation Annual Conference in Killarney.

“Health is the central enabler of our fulfilment of our potential as a nation,” said the Minister.

“We’ve grown used to commentators saying that if we hadn’t got such a good education system, if our young people didn’t have such knowledge-based skills, we wouldn’t have the Celtic Tiger at all. True enough.

But without health and a great healthcare system, the Celtic Tiger wouldn’tn be worth having. No sane person would choose to live or work in a manifestly unhealthy country. Health is a pivotal strategic resource, just as important as knowledge and skill.”

Committing himself to a radical overhaul of Ireland’s healthcare systems, the Minister said that such an overhaul was overdue.

“We have services in this country which are individually excellent,” he observed . “Now, we’ve got to pull them together so that people who are sick, and at their most vulnerable, are cared for in a seamless, gentle, efficient and respectful way.”

Minister Martin said that while there had been enormous changes in the last few years with the arrival of new drugs, new treatment regimes and new technology, nonetheless, right in the middle of this sea-change, certain landmarks remained strangely unchanged. The basic structure of the medical profession, he said, was one of those unchanging landmarks, changing so little over the past century that a Florence Nightingale or a Dominic Corrigan, visiting twenty first century Ireland, would find hospital hierarchies comfortingly familiar.

“The structure and organisation of medical manpower in our hospitals is in urgent need of reform,” the Minister told the IMO.

It was clearly not in the interests of either patients or young doctors that there be twice as many trainees in the system as fully trained doctors, he stated, adding that it was important to make the most of the contribution overseas doctors had to make to healthcare in Ireland, rather than use them to fill service jobs that fail to attract Irish doctors.

“We have to have a health service that responds speedily, flexibly and efficiently to the needs of our population.,” said the Minister. “And I don’t just mean to the needs of our population when they are acutely ill. Someone who needs a hip replacement may not be acutely ill, but their need is tied up with crucial issues like independence, mobility, dignity, capacity to earn a living, to stay healthy through exercise. Every one of those issues is impinged upon by poorly managed waiting lists.”