herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: Wanted -- a brave new boss to rebuild an ailing health service

Mary Harney says that she wants to keep her job as Minister for Health.

If that's true, she should do something to prove it. She should get on the first flight back from New Zealand after the St Patrick's Day parade due to be held tomorrow, call an emergency meeting of every HSE official connected with the Tallaght X-ray scandal and make it clear that she's taking charge of the situation.

After all, it should be obvious by now that nobody else is going to do it.

Professor Brendan Drumm has apparently turned into the invisible man over the last few days, giving the clear impression that he knew nothing about the problem until the media reported it and has nothing useful to say about it now.

The HSE boss is retiring in August, but until then he's still on a salary of around €450,000 -- and his public silence so far is a gross insult to the people he's supposed to represent.

The mystery of how such a gross neglect of duty could have happened still has to be resolved, but one thing at least is already clear.

The Tallaght scandal has exposed the complete lack of leadership within our health service, mirrored by the political system that set it up in the first place. The Dail couldn't even find time for a debate on the issue, since nothing can be allowed to interfere with TDs' St Patrick's break that began yesterday and ends on the afternoon of the 23rd.

The same pattern can be seen throughout every health crisis that's broken over the last few years, from the cancer diagnosis failure in Portlaoise to the lonely death of 18-year-old Tracey Fay in state care.

As soon as any kind of scandal is exposed, everyone in official circles rushes to take cover behind somebody else. The system has become such a black hole of bureaucracy, it is no exaggeration to say that nobody seems to know who's in charge any more. The events of this week have proved once and for all that the only way forward is a complete overhaul of the HSE, putting in place a clear communications structure that sets out everyone's responsibilities in plain, simple language.

It should also be clear that Harney lacks the credibility needed to carry out that kind of reform. The Department urgently needs a new boss, preferably someone young and untainted by the mistakes of the past who's not afraid to say that the system must be rebuilt from scratch.

The new head of Financial Regulation, Matthew Elderfield, said yesterday that his approach to keeping the banks in line would be "Just do it".

A little more of that kind of attitude throughout our public life would go a long way.

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