Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Spine chiller

Can you believe it? A 12 year old girl has a rapidly worsening spine disease which requires an urgent operation. The Irish health service stalls and delays and refuses to do anything. Eventually a businessman has to offer 100,000 euro for the operation to be carried out in London.

How come one of the richest countries on earth can't arrange a vital operation for a child who is in so much pain that even the heavy doses of painkillers might cause her death?

Her mother is in constant agonies watching her daughter suffer, yet the health authorities give excuse after excuse as to why she may have to wait 12 months for the 'urgent' operation.

Bernadette Kelleher, who lives in Cork, is so furious with the way her daughter Ann-Marie's scoliosis has been dealt with, she has spent six months lobbying her TD (member of parliament), health officials, doctors, the media and a major charity to get things moving.

The list of reasons for not performing the operation has grown and grown: lack of beds, lack of specialist staff, long waiting lists, the complexity of her problems. What all this really amounts to is management incompetence and lack of political will. There's certainly no shortage of money, the country is awash with it.

Now it looks as if the health service will pay for the operation in London. But don't hold your breath - next week there might be yet another U-turn. Why is it so difficult to give sick people the treatment they need, as soon as they need it?

All I can say is, I hope I don't succumb to any major disease that needs extensive medical treatment. The UK health service is not much better than the Irish one when it comes to treating you efficiently and promptly. They're just as ready with excuses and cop-outs and foot-dragging.

That might not matter so much if it's an insurance claim that's at issue, but health is crucial to our quality of life.

Photo: Woman with back pain. I couldn't get photos of Bernadette or Ann-Marie.


PeterAtLarge said...

Better a faulty universal health care system, though, than none at all--which is what we have over here in the US. We have millions going without any form of medical insurance, millions without access to any form of care. Spine chiller certainly chills, but at least there are cracks to fall between. Over here, no floor. Cheers...

Nick said...

Hi Peter. Yes, I know something about the US health service and its shortcomings. Just recently I saw Sicko and I know it's criticised for bias but it does stress how many people in the US can't get proper health care and the horrifying consequences. As you say, better a flawed service than none at all.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Nick,

Have you seen the film John Q? It stars Denzel Washington as a man whose son needs life saving surgery but who has no health insurance.

He gets so desperate after he's told the hospital will not perform the needed surgery that he gets a gun and holds the doctor hostage.

It's a great film about a very real subject. This sort of thing happens all the time here.

Anonymous said...

What a desperate situation, both for and her parents. How can priorities get so confused?

Nick said...

Hi MDC - I've never seen that film (or even heard of it). It sounds worth watching - a graphic reminder of all the people shut out of the US health service. Perhaps Bernadette should think about holding a doctor hostage??

Hullaballoo - Desperate is the word. The priorities down south seem to be shedloads of money for builders, IT companies and investors rather than helping people who're sick.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick, there is an award for you over at mine.


Los Angelista said...

A girl named Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year old leukemia patient, died on the day after Christmas because her insurance company, Cigna, refused to grant the transplant. It's just awful what these companies do when they make decisions based on money and not people.

Nick said...

Hullaballoo - Goodness, another Excellent Blog Award. Aren't I doing well? Will have to find a suitable award to give in return....

Liz - That's dreadful. Poor Nataline. But clearly a run-of-the-mill situation in the States where all these insurance companies have hearts of stone but buoyant share prices.

Wisewebwoman said...

The county (Cork) of my birth Nick, I can't believe how low the healthcare has sunk since my time.
How absolutely appalling that lives are put on the line while the wealthy cavort in their obscene mansions. U.S. East. Major disconnect. Healthcare is a right.
don't get me started. Excellent post.

Nick said...

Nicely put, www - the wealthy cavorting in their obscene mansions. Where they're completely isolated from the often distressing lives of ordinary people and probably don't even believe their lives are that difficult.

Anonymous said...

truly shameful, I'm appalled. In fact that is an understatement.

Nick said...

Conor, it's difficult to find any words that aren't a gross understatement of a scandalous situation.

Baino said...

I like to think this wouldn't happen here. I'm with your American commenters, I'd rather have a two tier system that makes the odd 'mistake' than the abyssmal system in the US. We've had a few horror stories but they are few and far between and usually due to staff shortages or mistakes than neglect. If you're an emergency, you generally are seen straight away. Although some of our more remote communities might disagree.

Nick said...

Baino, I know nothing about the Australian health system so that's interesting that you think it's generally pretty good. And good also that emergencies are so promptly dealt with. In the UK people can wait in A&E (Accident & Emergency) for hours on end because of permanent under-staffing.

steph said...

Hi! Nick

I just popped over from Grannymar's stable.

I'm delighted to find you highlighting problems in the Irish health service - my hobby horse.

I too was disgusted by this girl's case and highlighted it (on someone's else's site). It's hard to believe that someone (and especially a child) could be left in such pain while those in power make excuse after excuse. As the mother herself stated, Ann-Marie has been treated worse than a dog. It's also frightening to realise that this is life-saving surgery we're talking about, not everyday stuff.

I had to travel to the UK for a big operation (in NHS)last year for surgery unavailable in Ireland and despite having premium health insurance, I still had to fight my corner to get funding for treatment outside the country. They made me sweat for it but I eventually won the battle.

The major difference I noticed between the two hospital systems was that the NHS hospital was much cleaner than any public hospital I've ever seen here. As someone who's suffered significantly from being infected with MRSA in an Irish hospital, this was a real bonus. However I'm not reassured that health care is going the right way in either country.

I'm sorry to read today that your job is under threat and while it may seem unsympathetic to say it, I can honestly state that your health is your wealth!


Nick said...

Hi Steph! You make some very interesting comments on the UK and Irish health services. Typical that you had to go to an NHS hospital for an op you couldn't get in the Republic. And shocking that despite all the complaints about filthy NHS hospitals, you still found yours cleaner than any hospital back home. Also you probably know that MRSA and C Diff are rife in NHS hospitals as well. I agree, both health services are badly run and in a parlous state.

You're right, even if my job's on the line, I still have pretty good health and that's a big bonus.

steph said...

Cheers! Nick

I should have added that while the NHS hospital was cleaner, it was missing something very important - a personal touch. Here's a link to a post I wrote on the subject.


You can't beat the Irish for the gift of the gab!

Nick said...

Steph, thanks for the link. The lack of a personal touch doesn't surprise me, having lived in London most of my life and never got used to the self-contained indifference of so many Londoners. In Ireland both north and south people are a lot friendlier and interested in other people's welfare. The nurse who couldn't give you a banana because it wasn't on her form just about sums it up.