Minister 'badly afflicted by a case of out-of-touchitis'

Minister for Health Simon Harris

Flu and the winter vomiting bug may be the afflictions of the season, but out-of-touch-itis is the one that’s taken hold of Simon Harris, writes Caroline O'Doherty

Emergency departments are overflowing, GPs are swamped, waiting lists are out of control, mental health services are in crisis, staff are in exodus, and nurses are about to strike — the list of ailments affecting the health service is long, serious, and, one would think, obvious.

Unless, it seems, you’re the minister for health.

Mr Harris is looking to employ consultants — of the market-research kind (we can’t afford the medical kind) — to ask the general public, health workers, and others what they consider to be the key health issues and priorities and then devise a communications strategy based on their answers.

Half the public would willingly sum all that up on a beer mat for free, while the other half have already vented freely on every media outlet a minister could wish to read, hear, watch, thumb, swipe, or download.

But there’s a fee of €75,000 going for the job, so this particular beer mat will surely be a glossy production with an antimicrobial coating lest it contain something nasty.

Whoever wins the contract must carry out “qualitative exploration of current perceptions of the key health issues and priorities among general public and stakeholders” and then facilitate a senior management group in devising a communications plan with “key messages and strategic priorities”.

They will “collectively map stakeholder feedback to the department’s strategic objectives”, “identify and prioritise communications activities by audience”, and review and evaluate the strategy after 12 months.

The senior management group will consist of “circa 50 people”, which sounds more like a mob than a group so arguably the consultants will earn their €75,000.

But the stakeholders they are meant to consult, aside from the general public, includes the media and, even more oddly, the HSE, which, despite being established and funded by the minister for health and operating under a governance code approved by said minister, is clearly more remote to the current incumbent than the dark side of the moon.

Spending €75,000 is one treatment for out-of-touch-itis, though it’s doubtful the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics would sanction its widespread prescription.

Other options might be to pick up the phone, turn on the radio, maybe even buy a paper. Removal of eye masks and earplugs is also highly recommended.

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