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Summer into autumn

I couldn’t watch the All-Ireland Hurling Final. It was too important. I distracted myself, watering plant pots and pruning roses, carrying a little radio. When it was safe — a minute before the end — I turned on the TV and saw Tipperary erase the pain of the 2014 defeat.

Growing up in Dublin, I had no interest in GAA, even though it was the background noise on summer afternoons. My dad, a Galway man, sat with the curtains drawn, glued to the telly. Recently, a thoughtful Dubliner commented that maybe GAA is so important in rural Ireland because there’s so little to do.

No. That’s not it at all.

I heard an academic say that, of all EU countries, Ireland (along with Italy) has the strongest sense of local identity and that the GAA is key. It was part of a discussion about social capital and connectivity between people. Maybe that’s it.

Like this summer, when Dromineer Bay came alive with hundreds of little boats as young sailors from 10 countries competed in the Optimist World Championship. Some were only seven or eight years old, so yes, there were hundreds of parents there too and a volunteer army of us looking after them on the lake and on shore.

It was a much quieter summer’s day in 2004, when my husband Tom said “what this place needs is a literary festival”. I laughed at him. Ten frantic weeks later, the first Dromineer Literary Festival featured Michael D Higgins reading his poetry. We didn’t know he would become our poet President. 

The 2016 festival opened in a church, with an evening of Joni Mitchell, hauntingly sung as Gaeilge. It closed in the atmospheric surroundings of Nenagh Castle, with 1916 in history and fiction, seen through the Gifford sisters.

There were poets from England, America and Dromineer and a physician poet from Galway. I was so immersed in poetry, my dreams became strange; I remember the buried body of a hound, but maybe it wasn’t what it seemed. 

Best-selling novelists, workshops, prizes, an art exhibition, a boat trip on the lake with short stories. Tom wanted a festival of the highest-quality literature, but with music and fun too. That spark of an idea on a summer’s day has become an enduring flame. It’s lovely to see it.

Now the 2017 health budget is out, we can celebrate that there are no more cuts — the beatings have stopped. But the health service is in pain and will take years to recover. 

It’s wonderful news that there will be new acute hospital beds. It’s the first time in years. But 55 beds is about 0.5 per cent extra. There’s a lot more needed.

A thousand nurses are to be recruited. I hope they can find them. Why would young nurses, and doctors, ignore the ads for jobs in Australia and choose a trolley-infested system? Trolleys represent the disregard of patients and staff alike. 

‘Now the 2017 Health Budget is out, we can celebrate that there are no more cuts — the beatings have stopped. But the health service is in pain and will take years to recover’ 

And here comes the NTPF, back from the grave to haunt us. 

Politicians say the NTPF treated thousands of patients and cut waiting times to months. I have a different recollection, so I went back to the annual reports. 

Yes, the NTPF treated thousands of patients. But, wait a minute, they counted OPD attendances and MRI scans in that total. A public hospital would be ridiculed for doing that. The rest were mostly day cases. 

On a budget of €50 million, a public hospital would do all that, and run inpatient wards and emergency services too. 

As for the waiting time of a few months? Oh dear! It was the median, not the longest. In fact, lots of patients were waiting over a year back then, but they were “not suitable” for the NTPF. 

In reality, the NTPF was low-volume, high-cost and struggled to find suitable patients.

“Are you still a conscientious objector?” A neighbour asked me that. It was a summer’s day in October and our dogs were checking each other out. He was on a break from auditing accounts. I was walking the dogs. I don’t do it much, as they spend their time jumping over my new fences into the field.

A conscientious objector? No, that’s not it. That’s not why I’ve been on (unpaid) leave. 

Trying to explain is not easy. Reforms make patient care very difficult? IT efficiencies have made us less efficient? Excess communication has overwhelmed action? New structures make everyone responsible but also disempower everyone?

“Must be frustrating!” No, that’s not it; wrong word. I suggest “unnerving”. He gets it and goes back to his numbers. What will I do?

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