Taoiseach’s Views on Health Coverage Draws Criticism

Eoghan Dalton Reports

Cardiac campaign group Healthcare Equality for the South East (HEFSE) have criticised comments made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar where he expressed concerns that media coverage can put pressure on a government to devote resources to specific regions for a “particular condition”.
HEFSE spokesman Matt Shanahan said the Government lacks empathy for patients and that many members of the public first learn about “system and policy failures” when they are covered by the media, adding that the Taoiseach shouldn’t be surprised by the public’s reaction: “That the media seek to inform is their role – that the public responds to clear unambiguous health deficits is their right.”

The comments were made by Leo Varadkar when he was Minister for Social Protection in April of last year while being interviewed for a PhD thesis examining media coverage of healthcare policy, but were first made public last weekend by the Sunday Business Post. Mr Varadkar was reflecting on his previous role as Health Minister in the interview. According to the report, he worried that media coverage could mean “resources may be devoted towards that particular drug, that particular condition, that particular waiting list, that particular place in the country or region”. According to the paper, he further said that “while the cast majority of negative stories about the health service are true they created an overall worse impression of the service” and in the process undermines public confidence that the health system can be fixed.
On this point, Mr Shanahan said that “Public confidence in the health service is largely a function of patient experience and not in the control of national media messaging”.
He added: “For many, that service experience is negative and continues to be so for both patients and caregivers – this is a reality for very many and controlled coverage from national media will not change that fact. Political leadership possibly could but that too is a very scarce resource in the healthcare arena in Ireland today.”
According to People Before Profit General Election candidate Una Dunphy: “The media is a vehicle to reflect the situation of campaigns and regions. If campaigns are escalating in different areas, it is their responsibility to report on this, is the Taoiseach suggesting that they should not? The Still Waiting Health Campaign has also noted that problems exist with regional campaigns but seek to harness the energy of the local campaigns to feed into a national one, as it is doing now with success. The problem with regional/or drug specific campaigns is that when they get sorted the campaign generally evaporates and another is set up to deal with a similar problem in another area, experience and the people power gathered together for the campaign ceases. This also plays into parish pump politics with regions battling each other for their slice of what they are told is a limited pie, when in fact they should be working together to demand a new functional health service that serves all the regions.”
Ms Dunphy added: “Coverage has created a degree of fatalism but this has favoured the private model endorsed by FG. People in fear pay for health insurance if they can afford to, creating a two tier service that serves only those with deep pockets. The truth has undermined public confidence in the Health Service but what would the Taoiseach prefer the media to report? Things can be fixed but not by FG or FF, who through successive governments have embedded this dysfunctional model of health in our system.”

Meanwhile, the HEFSE has called on all South East-based politicians to force Health Minister Simon Harris “to immediately expedite delivery of the Modular Cath Lab to include a guaranteed installation date in the interests of patient care in the South East region.”
Said Matt Shanahan: “That the Minister’s office is located in an area adjacent to 20 Cath labs while the South East region is limited to a single interventional lab for 500,000 people should impel him to deliver this service immediately if his concerns to patient care are so paramount.”

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