St Colmcille’s Hospital (Loughlinstown) and Healthcare

About me, the system and my father

“Doctor”                Loughlinstown Hospital                Mary Harney

Avoiding Health Issues and Health Insurance

Traditionally my attitude to health and health insurance has been simple:  I avoid them.

Avoiding Doctors

I haven’t been to the doctor since the eighties. I’m the sort of person who borrows antibiotics if he gets an infection. I once took the dog’s penicillin and it worked just fine.

Staying Young
I try to take reasonable care of myself. I am 42, but think of myself for all purposes as 31, and do not intend getting either sick or old for many years. Several times a week I shake myself and thank Nature that I am 31 and still young and healthy (except for my back which doesn’t count). On some important level I worry that providing for ill health or old age could be instantly self-fulfilling.
So I have not bothered with pensions or health insurance. Until recently ….

Getting health insurance
Drenched in a fug of BertieAhernesque non-ideology, thinking vaguely of my children and suspending denial about that back, I decided a few weeks ago to buy a VIVAS discount healthcare plan thingy on the internet, even though I have no real idea what VIVAS is and don’t believe in healthcare, still less PRIVATE healthcare. I’m now worried if I have any spare cash I’ll buy a pension. Prophylactics against decline.

Worried by my behaviour, I have decided it is time to work out what I think about healthcare and take the consequences.

I hate doctors. They never told me anything I had not worked out for myself. They expect you to call them Dr and manoeuvre you into doing so. In hospitals they sweep around the place and don’t explain anything.

I think I dislike the inequality of the Dr/Patient relationship. It is humiliating to have someone know more about you than you do yourself, especially about something that really matters. Worse still if they are overcharging or hubristic. And it is calamitous if they are wrong, or you think they are. About you!

My own largely irrelevant instinctual antipathy to doctors is reinforced on a more serious level by recent mistakes in medicine relating to breast cancer in Portlaoise and the removal of a child’s wrong kidney.

A 1999 study in the US revealed that 98,000 people died as a direct result of a mistake by a clinician every year, and one million more ended up significantly worse off than they were when they were admitted. In the US, more people die receiving treatment than perish from car and plane crashes, suicides, falls, poisonings and drownings. In other words, by the time you finish reading this piece, an American citizen will have died as a direct result of a bungling medic. Or, as the British Medical Journal put it, baggage handlers have a better success rate at their jobs. This is all according to an excellent article by Jennifer O’Connell in last week’s Sunday Business Post.

Good Luck
I don’t think about health problems for myself (except for that back) and most of the time I don’t know anyone who suffers from them. Essentially I have a long-standing cosy and abstract lack of practical interest in the national health system. I’m lucky.

Quality of Life and Health
Having an interest in planning I am concerned with the national quality of life. On an academic level I know that health is an Important and problematic component of it.

In this spirit I was happy to join a friend on her fact-finding mission to the recent giant health-services march in Dublin City Centre, though I am not a natural marcher. I was a little unhappy that most of the banners failed to offer specific solutions, beyond terminating the PDs.

What do I want/When do I want it?

Marching is all very well but it is important to be constructive about what you want. You have to outline your goals before you can meet them. For healthcare the aims must be surely be equality and efficiency – the vision and the strategy respectively. I suspect the health system in Ireland, like for example the post-War education system in Britain, is caught between ideology and practicality. Allowing equality to be sacrificed for alleged improved efficiency. It is this that accounts for the PDs’ infatuation with co-located private and public hospitals.

If I was involved I’d monitor and measure the outputs of the health service and strive to improve them annually.

I also believe in equal access to healthcare and it is clear that Mary Harney has little time for equality of any sort in any sphere. Although the health strategy is called “Quality and Fairness” Susie Long died after waiting seven months for a colonoscopy, while private patients wait just days for the procedure.

Systemic problems
I have honestly never heard a clear and plausible vision articulated of precisely where the service is going wrong, though the marchers clearly thought that was self-evident.

I guess it must be highly significant that both the Department of Finance and Comptroller and Auditor General have said the HSE does not spend money efficiently. I also feel it cannot help that only 1000 public hospital beds have been added when three thousand were promised in 2001.

I suppose my suspicion is that the health service is run in the interests of those who run it, especially the (I think overpaid) consultants whose contracts have not yet been finalised and whose numbers have not yet started to increase. This reflects the Ahernesque national willingness to indulge the noisiest vested interests [See blog, Bertie Ahern below]. Another big Irish problem is that no-one ever bothered to define the respective areas of responsibility of the HSE and Department of Health. In March Mary Harney said no one person, including herself, is responsible for the “systemic failures” that led to the failures to diagnose breast cancer in nine women in the Midland Regional Hospital at Portlaoise – and she can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. And no-one is assigning responsibility for the unintended removal of that child’s kidney.

I recently got a close-quarters look at the system.

My father
My poor seventy-nine year old father found himself two weeks ago in the back of an ambulance at one o’clock in the morning unable to breathe properly.

St Colmcille’s (Loughlinstown) Hospital
He was taken to the nearest hospital to our family home – to a public ward in St Colmcille’s Loughlinstown Hospital with what turned out to be pneumonia in both lungs. It seemed to take a week before the doctors worked out the best medication for this. We thought of moving him to somewhere more prepossessing like St Vincent’s but the dangers both to his health and to his morale seemed disproportionate. Somehow too there is something impersonal and alienating about these sprawling part-private hospitals. Meanwhile he was stuck for what turned into two weeks in a fluorescent yellow public space that was a cross between a ward and a corridor, with the prevailing misery spiced by the intermittent agonies of the elderly patients. St Colmcille’s started life as a famine workhouse and has probably always been a sad place. And yet my father was not complaining.

Death trap?
The staff (in this case including the doctors) have been vastly obliging and friendly. Still, my confidence in Loughlinstown Hospital – and, I was told, morale in the hospital – was not helped by the front-page news last week that 16 elderly people died there of hospital-acquired superbugs in 2007. The Dublin County Coroner’s office implied St Columcille’s Hospital was the least hygienic in Dublin. In other words Loughlinstown Hospital is to be avoided like the um plague.


Getting back to the patient himself, fortunately he missed the news story and he has nothing but positive things to say about Loughlinstown, particularly the staff . The unattractive conditions do not seem to have been important to him. I can only think that because the hospital is all public wards there is not the underpinning of inequality, the humiliating sense that some of the motivation for some of the decisions – and therefore for some of the staff – is PROFIT rather than patient benefit that undermines the sense of solidarity in adversity that seems to me to drive Loughlinstown Hospital.

My conclusion is that in health, as in education, lack of vision and strategy, vested interest and hypocrisy account for a lot. Inequality underpins our system. Surprisingly, systemic lack of equality can be at least as frustrating for patients as lack of efficiency. In general, healthcare is good, though bad, sometimes shockingly bad, at the edges. It is one of the consequences of being rich and European as a country, that we have a right to be angry about this.


6 Responses to “St Colmcille’s Hospital (Loughlinstown) and Healthcare”

  1. Hello, I came across your article while trying to find an email address for Loughlinstown Hospital.
    I agree with you about doctors, they are hubristic and dangerous, and I thought your comments about St colmkilles and posher hospitals were perceptive. It is true they are not a great hospital and their famine beginnings linger, and also that they lack the horrible snotty snobbery that is in Vincents. i had occasion to experience both in one aweful night recently when I had to be checked out after a rearending car accident.
    One pretty middle ranking eejit (male) both managed to comment on my apparal (I had tied a scarf round my hospital gown for modesty, and he said “I see you have accessorized your gown”) and freak me outabout my health and any hopes I might have from the driver whose fault the accident was, he said “We think you have a hangman’s fracture (broken neck) but we can’t prove it was caused by the accident. I ask you how insensitive and unprofessional is that. I shudder at the thought now six weeks later. They later decided it was arthritis and said I could go home. I ran home, thinking even if it is broken at least I’ll be safer at home, I’ll call an ambulance if I find I’m paralysed or someone else will. Horrendous. Anyway you are a good writer, with inteligence and a heart, keep up the good work, and try to take care of your dad, best wishes.

  2. I agree loughlinstown is a dirty smelly badly run hospital the sooner the people of wicklow & surrounding areas have it shut down the better for all of us. So vincents open up your hearts and your doors & let our sick & dying do so with some dignity

  3. emmet bourke Says:

    St Colmcille’s Hospital (Loughlinstown) was an old British army hospatal and was used for the care of soldiers until recently
    how did it becom part of the public healt care system???

  4. I got a look on things in Sint colmcilles, when my partner was brought in with a severe infection, after the ambulance dumped him there it took over 11 hours in the waiting room before anyone even looked at him. afterwards he was moved onto a trolly for another 24 hours. by then they had realized it might be contagious so he was moved into isolation. after spending time in the same room with sick elderly people for over a day and a half. bar from the blood covered syringes underneath the bed and urine soaked bedsheets, commodes were taken from the room and not brought back for hours, the medical waste bin for the ward was inside the same isolation room. and the majority of the staff seemed to have dumped in this place against their will. all i was asking myself was how can anyone leave this place in a better condition then when they have entered it.

  5. Billige Laptops…

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  6. i m shocked to hear about this situation in hospital!! but now HEC iz now hirrng new doctors from different countries in order to improve over all health care standards .Could anyone please tell me about the current situation of this hospital?as one of my friend got job of SHO there,i dont know that joining that hospital wud be good decision for my frend or not?

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