Department of Health image ‘reawakened’ due to Covid-19

Handling of crisis has transformed view, from ‘pale, male and stale’

In a note given to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, officials said the Irish public were ‘aware of the negative narrative around health, and yet they themselves have had both positive and negative experiences of the system’. Photograph: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos Dublin

In a note given to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, officials said the Irish public were ‘aware of the negative narrative around health, and yet they themselves have had both positive and negative experiences of the system’. Photograph: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos Dublin

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The Department of Health’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has transformed its image from “pale, male and stale” to a “reawakened” state, officials have claimed.

In a note given to new Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, officials said the Irish public were “aware of the negative narrative around health, and yet they themselves have had both positive and negative experiences of the system”.

“The public want to see and hear about progressive change which, they understand, will take time and significant effort to deliver. They want to know that the Minister is leading an expert department, developing and implementing policy that is cohesive across the system.”

The note, written for Mr Donnelly as he took office in late June, said the Government’s handling of the pandemic has “fundamentally altered” the perception of the department as being “pale, male and stale” and also “removed from the reality of trying to access health services”.

“Today, as a result of the department’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is re-awakened trust in the Department of Health and an understanding of the positive impact health policies can have on lives. The level and clarity of Covid-19 communication has contributed significantly to improved visibility of the role of the Government and Department of Health.”

Listening process

Officials included a quote from an unnamed person that said “you’d have to think that this is the open door to go and sort out issues in healthcare”.

The note further states that the department wants to “leverage the equity” in the handling of the coronavirus crisis “to encourage flu and other vaccinations, particularly among vulnerable groups”.

There are also plans to devise a “radical listening process” to “understand women’s perspectives on health and wellbeing” and to “instil cohesion and balance into health messaging across aegis bodies and the media”.

In a separate part of the document, officials raise fears that almost 5,000 fewer beds will be available because of the impact of the pandemic.

There are also warnings about the pressure on the health budget because of the pandemic, including potentially more people needing access to medical cards under the general medical services scheme (GMS).

Officials wrote that there was an anticipated increase in GMS coverage as a result of unemployment. Every additional 10,000 cards would cost €5 million, the document states.

“The scale of the challenge facing the health system in Ireland from Covid-19 is unprecedented and the need to manage the crisis situation the pandemic is causing in the health and social care sector has required urgent and immediate investment in the health system,” it said.

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