Health service - Heads must roll for litany of failures

ONE of the most telling revelations of our three-day investigation into the debacle of Ireland’s health service is the appalling lack of accountability and transparency within the HSE. The failure of managers and other officials within the organisation to put up their hands and accept responsibility for their actions, or inaction as the case may be, is something the public finds infuriating.

So, it is refreshing that Health Minister Mary Harney openly admits in today’s wide-ranging interview that if the HSE were a privately run organisation, people would undoubtedly have lost their jobs in light of some of the errors they have made. It is an argument that has been put forward time and again in these columns. However, that does not belie the significance of hearing it from the minister’s lips.

Indeed, Ms Harney has been in the firing line of late, accused of inaction, and some might suggest the same stricture could be applied to her. In self-defence, however, she recently argued that she prefers working behind the scenes rather than appearing on media platforms. In this context, it is fair to say that the considerable time and effort she has devoted to, for instance, seeking resolution of Ireland’s cancer crisis, is showing positive signs of paying off.

But if a manager’s role is to have any meaning, accountability and transparency are essential. No organisation can work without some form of accountability. How often have we seen officials kick for touch or blatantly spin a web of obfuscation instead of producing relevant facts and figures?

Of course, by the very nature of its work, confidentiality must be maintained within the health sector. But, as witnessed in the aftermath of Daniel McAnaspie’s murder, there comes a time when such considerations must be overridden in the public interest. It is unacceptable that problems be constantly swept under the carpet out of fear they might reflect badly either on the manager concerned or the organisation at large.

The inexplicable failure to keep a record of the number of troubled children who have died while under the supposedly protective umbrella of the state, smacks of gross ineptitude on a frightening scale. Effectively, it ensured that potentially damning information was kept out of the public gaze.

As Ms Harney put it, “serious questions have to arise of course for people who have responsibility, very serious questions” if the data stood up in relation to the number of children who died either in care or after coming into contact with social services. The latest scandal of miscarriage diagnoses, now the subject of investigation, is yet another glaring example of the lack of joined-up thinking within the ailing organisation. Nobody wants to see anyone lose their job but until heads roll in the public service, the health sector and other key areas will continue to be dogged by crisis.

Unless meaningful accountability and transparency become the hallmarks of both the HSE and the public service in general, a jaundiced public will continue to be deeply sceptical about this Government’s handling of a health service that in its present form is not fit for purpose.

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