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A year of ups and downs

He was welcomed as a Minister who would sit down and engage with doctors, and not just demand that they toe the line. He also set about reversing his predecessor’s disastrous 30 per cent cut to consultant pay, which has been a significant factor in the ongoing consultant recruitment crisis.

Also unlike his predecessor, Varadkar managed to secure an increase, though modest, in the health budget and he was able to stall UHI, without the flak Dr James Reilly endured due to its missed deadlines.

He even attended the IMO AGM — which Reilly had latterly avoided — to a warm welcome and went on to attend possibly more healthcare professional gatherings than any Minister for Health in recent times, accepting invitations from dermatologists, laboratory scientists, nurses and hospital and community pharmacists, among others. At these events his praising speeches, essentially telling each group what they wanted to hear, went down very well. He also won praise from former Minister for Health Mary Harney for his practical and determined approach.

However a year into the job, it is clear the honeymoon is over. Persistently high, record-breaking hospital and trolley waiting lists, Portlaoise and other scandals, as well as the further freezing of UHI, are finally denting Varadkar’s halo and his previous Bertie-like non-stick reputation.

In May, the number of patients waiting for an outpatient appointment rose to a new record of more than 412,000, with Varadkar’s (still unreached) target of having no patient waiting over 18 months seen as simply not good enough. GPs are also no longer enamoured with their former new hope, following his hard-line approach to denying the NAPG a place in contract talks and his blunt “cop-on” comments to individual GPs on Twitter. He has lost his shine for consultants too, who have lost patience over the stalled salary ‘deal’ and failure to reverse the recruitment crisis.

Varadkar was typically forthright upon his appointment a year ago, saying that he couldn’t fix the health service overnight and he would simply do his best, but is his best simply not good enough anymore?

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