About ten days ago, a family friend and young mother took her 2year old child to the Accident and Emergency Department in a major hospital. The child had injured an arm and the young mother needed re-assurance that there was no break.
After spending several hours in A&E, the young mother was informed there was no break. “Its painful. But she can move her arm”. So thats ok then. An XRay? “No ….she can move her arm”.
As many will know, this was around the same time of well reported difficulties in A&E in several Norn Iron hospitals. Notably the Royal Victoria Hospital inB elfast.
On Monday, I went to my local General Practitioner to make an appointment to see him.
The earliest appointment I can get….3rd February.
Its a very peculiar thing that it is now much more difficult to see a Doctor than it was fifty years ago.
I am thinking of our old family doctor with the one-man practice on the Falls Road. Aided only by his two spinster sisters, he was already an old man.
An UN imposing small man yet with an authorative demeanour, he served the people of the Falls Road for almost fifty years, retiring in the 1970s
As I recall, he had two daily surgeries. No appointments necessary. Just turn up and one of the two sisters would show you into a waiting room and eventually you would be seen.
He lived in the Cliftonville area of North Belfast. But an emergency call and he would arrive at our house. My father had a chronic heart condition.
Back in those days the only car parking outside our house was likely to be driven by a Doctor.
Actually in those days there were several one-man Doctors surgeries.
The “Wee Doc” was one such Doctor.
Many years later, I learned he had actually been awarded a medal for his service (for the British) in World War One.
I like our current doctors….been going there for over thirty years. The older doctors from the 1980s have retired and/or died. The (then) young doctors are now running the place and there are young doctors there now, who are actually younger than my children.
Thats how it goes. I know I am old and its a cliche but doctors do appear to be barely out of their teens.
So what exactly has happened. Mostly its beaurocry.
Politicians…such as current Health Minister Edwin Poots run a big budget Depratment.
And for twenty odd years, we have seen Ministers protect themselves by building walls between their overseeing Department and our local Health Boards and Trusts.
The Beaurocrats are well paid to ensure that staff are overworked and underpaid and that budgetary cuts can be passed off as…improvements.
But what exactly do if you are ill. Well one of the seven doctors in our local practice might actually make a house call during normal working hours.
After normal working hours, it is necessary to phone the After Hours service based in the grounds of the local hospital. The advice depends on the Doctor who is actually on duty. I have never had occasion to use the service except for one son and my grandchildren.
There always seems to be an element of negotiation before the Doctor relents “bring him/her over”.
There is rarely any satisfaction.
Most people seem happier to drive an extra 200 metres to the Emergency Department at the hospital.
And there does seem to be a territorial war between General Practitioner/After hours Doctor/Hospital. Actually getting some Doctor to be responsible is an achievement.
But while politicians and journalists focus on Flegs, Parades, the Past, Richard Haass and Eamonn Mallies documentary on Ian Paisley…the thing that real people seem bothered about is the obvious deterioration in the Health Service.
Prompted largely by the anecdotal evidence provided by its own Constituency Advice Centres, SDLP will be holding a Conference on Health tomorrow. Arranged at short notice, it will involve health professionals and trade union representatives. No doubt all will be expressing concern.
It IS a crisis.
The nature of Norn Iron politics is that the two unionist parties are CONSERVATIVE and not sympathetic. The Alliance Party is…as always non-committal to anything but itself.
The two parties most sympathetic to the Health Service is the socialist leaning SDLP and Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein are too wedded to the current government.
SDLP seems the most likely to express genuine concern. After all Alasdair McDonnell, the Party Leader IS a DOCTOR. Deputy Leader Dolores Kelly is also a former Health Service worker. In part its philosophy….public health service is key belief of a Social Democrat party but just about every SDLP member at every level will have a family member in the Health Service.
Earlier this week trade unions from the Public Sector…NIPSA and UNISON turned up at Stormont to lobby MLAs on Public Sector pensions. As always the “go to Party” is SDLP.
And SDLP pledges support.
But frankly Support is a two way street. SDLP philosophy and actual policy is close to the thinking of health professionals and their representatives in trade unions and other bodies.
Sadly the trade unions have manifestly failed to endorse their political friends….preferring to join the ridiculous Labour NI or the even more ridiculous Workers Party ….or simply pretend to be members.
SDLP has stepped up to the plate. A little support….or even electoral endorsement ….too much to ask for?