Róisín Shortall: No regrets
In 2012, the reason health has seldom been out of the news has largely to do with resources, or the lack of them. The system itself has struggled on, delivering high standards of care in most areas and has improved in areas such as waiting lists.
The single exception to this focus on resource problems was the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital in October, which garnered worldwide attention and reignited the debate on abortion. Three separate investigations are under way into the death of the 31-year-old who was pregnant when she was admitted to the hospital.
The other constant has been the presence of Minister for Health James Reilly on the front pages of the newspapers. Some of Dr Reilly’s misfortunes are his own work – his appearance in Stubbs Gazette, for example, over an unpaid debt, and his meddling with a list of primary care centres with the addition of two locations in his own constituency.
Other controversies, for example the Halappanavar case, landed in his lap through happenstance but were made worse by the Minister’s approach. The decision to put three Galway-based doctors on the HSE inquiry into this death was not made by Reilly himself but he got the blame anyway for not proofing it beforehand. Neither was it Reilly’s fault that An Bord Pleanála shot down plans to build the new national children’s hospital at the Mater, but the Minister ended up with generally undeserved egg on his chin for much of the year until a well-received decision to place the project at St James’s was made.
Most of his fellow politicians think Reilly has an impossible job, given the hairshirt demanded by the troika. The health service has performed creditably given the loss of staff and reductions in spending up to now, but many doubt the Minister’s ability to cut another €1 billion off the budget next year.