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The two faces of January

It is a hard month to like. But whatever else it might be, January is at least well named. Janus, the two-faced god. One face turned to the past, the other to the future. We know what has gone before — six very hard years for doctors and their patients.

What can we expect from the future?

As 2014 ended, the IMO could point to a considerable success. Following the overwhelming ballot for industrial action by NCHDs at the Anaesthetic Department of CUH, the hospital gave in almost immediately, agreeing to restore the doctors’ pay to the contractual rate. This is a huge boost for NCHDs everywhere and an open admission that the hospital was wrong to unilaterally attempt to cut their pay. It was a grubby, mean-spirited act and is quite rightly being reversed. How long it will take for the hospital to pay the NCHDs what they’re owed is another question though.

Undoubtedly, the old attitude of ‘keep your head down’ is increasingly not sitting well with people tired of being the dogsbodies of an ungrateful service. The introduction of the various GEM programmes has also added a new dynamic to the antiquated system of medical education. These are people who have worked outside of medicine. They are older and often more experienced. They are not prepared to be treated unfairly.

For the IMO too, it was a significant victory. After a stormy couple of years, during which time the Organisation scored a number of own-goals, it can point to successes for each constituent part of its membership.

Perhaps the most important lesson to take from the ballot is the increasing willingness of the IMO to flex its muscles.

“The HSE can’t bully our members to accept rates that are not agreed and hopefully today they will have learnt that lesson,” IMO Industrial Relations Director Mr Eric Young said.

While the latter point remains to be seen, with trouble brewing in other large hospitals, how long will we have to wait before the next vote for industrial action?

Aras Attracta is Ireland’s shame

 The Aras Attracta scandal is almost too awful for words, stunning many hardened and seasoned commentators into silence.

Seeing patients, doubly-vulnerable due to old age and disability, being treated so inhumanly is not only outrageous, it cuts at the heart of our sense of self. ‘We are a country that respects the elderly and protects the disabled’, we tell ourselves. We value them.

Clearly, we do not.

What’s worse is that it may not be an isolated case. Minister Varadkar told The Journal.ie that we cannot assume that what was broadcast was the worst example in the country, saying that the Mayo facility was well staffed and had been the subject of inspections by HIQA.

This comment hardly indicates confidence in HIQA’s ability to do the job it was established to do — protect patients and residents in care.

“It’s certainly the worst that I’ve ever seen,” the Minister added, “but how can we know for sure unless we carry out more undercover inspections?”

Whether this means extending the powers of existing regulatory bodies is unclear, but it does suggest that the Minister for Health has very little faith in the ability of the HSE to police itself.

And neither does the public.

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