PAUL MILLS: Lack of accountability bedevils our public sector

An editorial in this paper referred to yet another “scandal” in the HSE.

Given the ongoing saga of scandal after scandal emanating from the HSE without any apparent recourse, it seems as if it operates as an independent entity accountable to no one.

In normal circumstances, the people who pay the bills and wages hold sway. The HSE and some other public sector organisations continue to operate as if they are answerable to no one.

In this most recent case, a mother who had just given birth to a dead baby was told that the baby would be buried within a week but instead was kept in a room within the hospital for four weeks.

Furthermore, the mother was told that she could not attend the burial for privacy and confidentiality reasons. The mind boggles.

This incident occurred not 20 or 30 years ago but last October in Letterkenny. The apology, when one arrived, was one of apparent condescension with little by way of acceptance that a wrong had been done to the mother.

The common theme of all of the various scandals was the fact that no one is held accountable. Unfortunately, it’s a theme that plays out again and again across the public sector.

It seems that we regularly read about court cases where a wronged individual sues the State directly or indirectly.

Hundreds of thousands, even millions, are paid out because of a clear failing in the care of duty. But nothing changes. It’s business as usual as if to say we got away with that.

Expensive errors, some of which result in the death of an individual, occur that are repeated over and over again, and no one is held to account. Sure, if and when it gets to court awards are made to the litigant but they are ultimately paid from taxpayer funds.

Expensive reports are completed allegedly in an effort to ensure that such occurs do not recur. Once that particular can is kicked far enough up the street, it’s back to business as usual. The report gets shelved and the taxpayer is out of pocket yet again.

The HSE as the largest such entity, by a long shot, and the one with the biggest budget in the State which has had far more than its share of such scandals.

It surely cannot be for the lack of a large senior management.

As this paper said, in the last five years the number of senior HSE managers increased by 40%, while waiting lists got longer

There appeared to be no caps placed on recruiting managers but restrictions were placed on the hiring of doctors and nurses. This makes one wonder if even those at the very top of the HSE have even a notion of what’s going on or how to solve it.

Doctors and nurses are vital the health service. Increasing clerical posts is not vital, particularly when there is little evidence that a myriad of problems is being solved. All they appear to do is increase the payroll and reduce the funds available for those who work at the proverbial ‘coal face’.

The evidence is conclusive. The HSE is a monster. It would have collapsed a long time ago if it was a private entity. It survives not on the basis of the strength of its management but on the hard work of very many of its staff and the support of tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the country.

It is an experiment that did not work. It’s now time to go back to the drawing board and to build an organisation that is fit for purpose and not designed and operated for the most militant or powerful of those it employs. The Irish people deserve no less.

Like Irish Water, it must be replaced with an entity that understands and sticks to its mission that works. That mission must be about building an organisation that accepts responsibility and is accountable.

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