It’s goodbye to our Health Minister

Mary Harney out

Mary Harney out

According to IrishHealth.com, Mary Harney has brought to an end nearly six-and-a half-years as Health Minister with the announcement of her resignation from the Cabinet.

She offered her resignation to the Taoiseach, which has been accepted, and has announced she will not be standing in the forthcoming general election. It had been speculated for some time that she would not run in the election.

Ms Harney said she offered her resignation to Brian Cowen last week but was told to hold off on making the announcement.

Mary Harney was appointed Health Minister in September 2004. She was previously Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment.

A former Tanaiste, Mary Harney has witnessed the demise of the party she helped found – The Progressive Democrats- while serving as Health Minister.

She is the second longest holder of the health portfolio in the history of the State, but her critics will say that after more than six years, she should have achieved more.

While she has had some limited successes as Minister – the Fair Deal nursing home funding scheme; providing for better regulation of doctors and other health professionals; reducing drug costs to some extent and bringing in doctor visit medical cards, on the big healthcare issues she has essentially failed to deliver.

Early on in her ministry she promised to resolve the ongoing A&E crisis. Years later, emergency department trolley numbers have reached record levels and the Minister continued to offer little in the way of concrete solutions to the ongoing hospital capacity crisis.

The Minister told the Dail last week: “we must become less focused on beds and more focused on activity.”

Despite her exhortation, the rest of the country was extremely focused on beds, and the lack of them. Patients were becoming less focused on beds as more and more of them got used to waiting on trolleys.

As Minister, Mary Harney presided over considerable bed reductions, which took place long before an alternative system aimed at reducing reliance on hospital beds was put in place.

Mary Harney’s plan to increase capacity in the system by decanting private beds from public hospitals into co-located private units failed. Nearly six years after she announced co-location as a quick solution to hospital capacity problems, not one co-located hospital or bed has opened.

The cancer services reorganisation is regarded as a success on Ms Harney’s watch, but much of this success was down to Prof Tom Keane. In any case, the report proposing cancer service reorganisation had lain on a shelf for years and was only activated after a number of breast cancer misdiagnosis scandals emerged during the Harney era.

Other more negative aspects of Ms Harney’s Ministry that will be rembered include:

* Failure to reform the HSE, a structure she effectively inherited from her predecessor, Micheal Martin, but whose establishment was very much in line with her reform-minded PD policy.

* Early in her ministry, the fall-out from the scandal over illegal overcharging by health authorities of public nursing home patients for many years.

* The attempt to take medical cards off thousands of over 70s.

*Frequent expressions of regret over the latest hospital care or misdiagnosis scandal and claims that hospital safety would improve despite her efforts , Mary Harney failed to convince the public that she was making healthcare provision safer.

* ‘Taxing the poor’, by introducing prescription charges. Ireland must be one of the few developed countries where those on the very lowest incomes are charged for treatment,albeit at a low rate.

* Her recent clash with Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, with the Minister insisting that the State was not legally obliged to provide public long-stay care for the elderly.

*Her failure to effectively tackle waiting list numbers, despite the NTPF, and in particular waiting times for outpatient appointments.

*Controversy over her expenditure on business trips abroad as Health Minsiter and in her previous ministry, not to mention her lengthy stay in New Zealand as the Tallaght x-ray crisis unfolded.

So is it goodbye and good riddance or just farewell?

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