Can we do anything right in this country? Was anyone in the HSE thinking when they decided on the composition of the inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar? What on earth did they expect to happen when they informed Praveen Halappanavar that his wife’s death would be investigated by a seven-member group, three of whom were medical consultants working in the very hospital where it happened? Did they think the man was a fool?
Did they really believe he’d cooperate with such a stupid plan?
So much for all the government’s talk of staying in touch with Savita’s family as the HSE made preparations to announce the terms of reference of the inquiry. Obviously, if they had been in contact, they’d have found out pretty damn quick that our local bullshit doesn’t travel overseas too well. While Irish people might be happy to accept the sort of waffle doled out by our politicians, the rest of the world sees it for the nonsense it is.
Where are we going with this? In presiding over an economic catastrophe, our various governments were exposed as incompetent fools in front of all our European partners, and now they suffer the same indignity as far away as India, by turning a tragedy into a fiasco. Every civilised country in the world stands back in disbelief as our cowardly lawmakers shirk their responsibilities laid down by the Supreme Court and let women die or emigrate rather than face reality. How did they think they’d get away with this? Well, here’s one theory. First, the HSE is not run by professional managers.
It’s run by administrators, and there’s a big difference between the two. A manager grabs hold of a problem and solves it, using training and expertise, while an administrator reacts to a problem by trying to hide it. The administrators who control the HSE are not trained in problem-solving. For that matter, they’re not trained in anything except empty management-speak. They’re file-shufflers, who have never had to deal with anything but paper, and those who deal exclusively with paper have little feeling for the needs of real people, as they showed in the breast cancer scandal.
Second, the clinical service is delivered by consultants, a caste of doctors who at one time were renowned worldwide for their arrogance, though that has changed in most countries, apart from a few small outposts of privilege such as Ireland. Here, the consultants are paid more than anywhere else in Europe. To keep their income high, there are fewer of them per head of population, and they are quite unaccustomed to having their word questioned. It’s the God Complex.
Now, combine these two strands of dysfunction. A management which is not really management at all but simply reactive, defensive file-shuffling. A clique of pampered, overbearing and overpaid specialists in charge of clinical matters. Neither group is used to showing any consideration for the small person, also known as the patient. The administrators are in the habit of keeping the public at arm’s length by means of a wall of red tape, while the consultants simply believe in their own personal infallibility. It’s almost inevitable that these two groups, acting together, would produce the disaster that is the Savita Hallapanavar inquiry, and it would probably have worked if they were dealing with Irish people, worn out and beaten down by generations of such collective arrogance.
What could be more normal in Ireland than to set up an inquiry where the very same people giving evidence about their colleagues are also members of the body asking the questions? How did Praveen Halappanavar respond? Very simply. He quite properly insisted that the inquiry should be genuinely independent if he was expected to co-operate, and in doing so, he may have done this country a great service. I know he expressed the hope that Savita’s death might help to change things and perhaps he might live to see that wish become a reality. The government had no option except to back down and remove the three Galway consultants from the inquiry, but of course if they hadn’t assumed they were dealing with a fool, they might have got away with it.
This isn’t to suggest that the three consultants are in any way biased, but it should be obvious to any fool, apart from our health minister and the HSE administrators, that an independent inquiry should be, what’s the word? Independent. That’s it.
The former head of obstetrics and gynaecology in Galway University hospital expresses his opinion on abortion.