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The Real Ireland

Details are emerging of women who were incorrectly diagnosed as having miscarried, and the story is gathering momentum.  It started with a woman who attended the notorious Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, but now women all over the country are beginning to tell how they were ignored, bullied and disbelieved when they requested a second opinion.

It isn’t a coincidence, and the Lourdes hospital isn’t unique, though it is an institution with a fearsome past where a butcher of an obstetrician inflicted unnecessary hysterectomies on hundreds of women, and where 26-year-old Sheila Hodgers was left to die screaming in agony because the nuns who controlled it at the time wouldn’t administer anaesthesia in case it harmed her unborn child.  She reached such an advanced stage of cancer because the hospital refused to administer an X-ray early in pregnancy, even though she had already had a mastectomy for breast cancer.  Again, the reason was religious — the X-ray might harm the foetus.

Sheila Hodgers died 30 years ago and the nuns are gone, but not the attitudes.

Michael Neary is an overbearing bully with a classic case of the God syndrome so common in Irish consultants, and the nuns have been replaced by the HSE but their legacy lives on.

I’ve written about this HSE crowd before.

These are the people who waited until they could gather 97 terrified women together in one place for the results of their cancer tests, even though  the slightest delay might result in the deaths of some of them.  It was done this way, not in the interest of the patients, but because HSE administrators found it more convenient to herd the women together in one place.

As I said in response to a report on this scandal, the health service is not run by professionals, but by unqualified administrators, light on knowledge and heavy on arrogance — an arrogance born out of the fear that they might be exposed for the ignorant incompetents they are.

As I said at the time, these people are from the vast ranks of mediocre know-nothings who arrived into the old Health Boards as junior clerks at the age of seventeen with a fair-to-bad school Leaving Certificate. If not for this stroke of luck, they might have struggled to find a job selling shoes.

These “managers” spent their formative years stamping pieces of paper and looking down their noses at poor people huddled outside a wooden hatch in some freezing Victorian health centre.

These are the geniuses who stuff our public service, and strangle the initiative of people with real talent and real vision. These are the dead weight that guarantee our health service is, and will remain, a complete disaster.

Why is this?  Why are the administrators in our health service so devoid of human feeling, so incompetent and so robotic in their treatment of the people who pay their wages?

Why are Irish consultants so different from their colleagues in Britain, who display considerably more empathy and who seem to be far less infatuated with their own egos?

I suspect that the miscarriage scandal is Ireland in microcosm.   The real Ireland that has never gone away since the foundation of the State.

There’s a common belief that the revolutionaries who initiated the War of Independence somehow had the interests of the ordinary Irish people at heart, but the evidence doesn’t bear that out.  Many of them, and perhaps even most of them, were well-off people who had little or no understanding of the worries that beset the common people, and for the most part, they held the common man in contempt.

These were people fighting to secure position and wealth for their families, who were already influential and entrenched in the professions in Ireland.

The ages-old dispute between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has nothing to do with ideological differences and everything to do with family rivalries, money, power, position and privilege.

What a revolution it turned out to be, when the revolutionaries gained control of the judiciary, the legal profession at large, medicine, engineering, architecture, construction and journalism.

The revolutionaries were rich, well-connected, deeply conservative, and their independent State cared nothing for the ordinary people.  It handed them over to the tender mercies of the Catholic church to beat and bugger them.  It left them to starve and die of TB in their thousands.

The sad reality is that when the British left, the Irish poor became poorer and sicker.  While the Brits were closing their industrial schools, our privileged elite were packing them with children for the delectation and profit of the clergy.

When a bishop — prompted by medical consultants who saw their wealth and power threatened — objected to a harmless Mother and Child scheme, the State cowered and capitulated.  These medical consultants were Irish, and they came from a long line of influential Irish families who had prospered under British rule.

In this very town, a Belfast doctor by the name of James McPolin, Chief Medical Officer for County Limerick, was particularly vocal in his opposition to the Act.

McPolin, as Declan Lyons describes in an excellent paper entitled Medicine in Limerick in the 20th Century, argued that State medicine contravened moral law, that it was the father’s duty to provide medical care for his dependants and the role of the family doctor and the church, not the State to educate mothers and children about health.

This was a doctor, paid by the State, arguing against State care for its citizens.  He exercised enormous power – of life and death – over the people of this town and I often heard the older people speak of him with a mixture of fear and detestation.  Ironically, Belfast doctors today treat their patients with far more humanity and humility than their southern counterparts do.

The dispensaries over which McPolin and his kind presided were authoritarian places, where the poor were told what was good for them, and how they may or may not conduct their lives.

Much later, a Fine Gael prime minister was able to vote against his own government on the issue of contraception – as if such a thing should have been a political issue at all – saying that he was a Catholic first and an  Irishman second.  Disgracefully, that Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, saw no contradiction between his democratic election by the people and his obedience to the law of his church.  As far as he was concerned, the people’s will mattered only when it didn’t conflict with his private views.

Anyone who has seen the State at work will know that petty officials treat the public like dirt, but of course, these petty officials are just ordinary people like you and me, so how do they come to be so arrogant?

The answer is, they’re not arrogant.  They’re frightened.  On one side, they’re afraid of their superiors and on the other, they’re afraid of being found out.  You see, if generations replaced themselves en masse, there would be no problem, but that isn’t how it works.  There’s always a senior person from the previous decade, carrying the attitudes and mindsets of the past, imposing them on the juniors and the younger ones.  The mindset that pervades our public service goes all the way back to the authoritarian foundation of the State, when well-connected men decided they’d like the Brits gone so that they could become even richer than they were already, and less accountable.

Ireland, I’m afraid to say, has never been a republic, despite the propaganda.

And that’s why doctors and nurses in Ireland feel entitled to bully and shout women down, when they dare to question the infallibility of their judgements.

And why is that?  Because behind it all, the bully is also afraid.

In this unfree non-republic, we never shook off the fear of being found out.

The real Ireland.

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Previously: Ireland is not a republic

The medicalisation of society

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Doctors circle the wagons

Who remembers the Neary case? Michael Neary was an obstetrician in Drogheda who carried out unnecessary Caesarean hysterectomies on many women in his care. Neary treated his patients with contempt and most of the staff lived in fear of him, with the result that almost two hundred women women were mutilated before anybody raised the alarm.

When, eventually, the North-Eastern Health Board ordered an independent review, the case was referred to three of Neary’s peers. He was allowed to personally select the nine cases reviewed and the three experts duly concluded that he should be allowed to return to work, with some restrictions. The Health Board then referred the case to a Manchester-based obstetrician who was horrified by what he saw.

Neary was subsequently struck off the register of medical practitioners by the Medical Council and an inquiry was set up under Judge Maureen Harding-Clarke. The judge’s report reached the same conclusion as the Medical Council, but also went on to explore the deeper reasons behind the abuse. In particular, it mentions the Catholic ethos of the hospital, which was formerly owned by the Medical Missionaries of Mary – a crowd of nuns. It suggests that, as sterilisation and contraception were unavailable due to the lingering influence of the nuns, Neary may have resorted to hysterectomy as a sort of back-door sterilisation. This is only partially correct. Neary mutilated 188 women in all, some in their twenties, and most without permission, so at the very least there’s an element of playing God, which is not an unusual thing among Irish medical consultants.

Bizarrely, Harding-Clarke’s report also mentions the disappearance of many patient files from the hospital, which could only have been removed by a member of staff who knew what to look for. In fact, the judge’s own office was broken into three times during the investigation.

What of the three consultants who thought Neary wasn’t such a bad guy? Well, all three have been found guilty of professional misconduct by the Medical Council, so at last we might be making some progress in this ex-Catholic little country. I might as well list them. They are Professor Walter Prendiville, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, of the Coombe Women’s Hospital, Dr Bernard Stuart, also of the Coombe, and Dr John Murphy, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin 2.

The three boys are said to regret their actions in writing the report, but not as much, I’ll bet, as the 188 damaged women regret entering Neary’s clutches.
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UPDATE
Prendiville and Murphy subsequently sought a judicial review of the disciplinary proceedings and the decision of the Fitness to Practise Committee was quashed on the procedural grounds.

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