Credit: Health Minister Stephen Donnelly via Twitter (screenshot)

Health warnings on wine? Donnelly is fiddling while the HSE burns

You might remember that back in 2017, then Health Minister, Simon Harris, wearing his best frowny-sincere face, promised that children with scoliosis would not have to wait longer than 4 months for a vital procedure. The longer that children have to wait for treatment, the worse the curvature in their spine becomes, the more difficult and painful their lives are. and the more complex corrective surgery needs to be.

Harris didn’t fulfill his promise, of course, and his successor, the equally hapless Stephen Donnelly, has also failed desperate families, being forced to apologise last November when data from Children’s Health Ireland showed that hundreds of children with spina bifida or scoliosis had been waiting for up to a year or more.

It’s just one example of how chaotic and dysfunctional the management of our health service has become, despite the money being poured into it by the taxpayer.

The average waiting time for admission to an emergency department in 2023 has now reached an astonishing 11.5 hours, as evidenced by the often heartbreaking photographs – sometimes a daily occurrence – of elderly, sick and vulnerable people languishing on trollies.

In January of this year, Dr Mick Molloy, emergency department consultant and member of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) consultant committee, warned of “massive burnout” amongst staff, and said that over-burdened hospitals would lead to “more unnecessary deaths”.

Donnelly is presiding over record waiting lists – up to 888,000 patients this month – while 225,000 people are waiting for a diagnostic scan.

And it is inexplicable that he doesn’t even seem embarrassed that Independent TDs are forced to organise ‘Belfast or Blind’ busses from Kerry and Cork to bring people on an exhausting trip north-and-back in a day to get a simple operation which will, in many cases, stop them from going blind.

But never mind all that stuff!! Who needs scoliosis operations, or hospital beds, or eyesight-saving treatment, or a diagnostic scan when the Minister has something way bigger up his sleeve, something that will vastly improve our health and wellbeing in jig time.

Drum roll please for the Ministerial announcement that from now on we will have “comprehensive health warnings on alcohol products”.

In the video of the announcement, Donnelly has his sleeves rolled up because this shows he is busy-meaning-business as he signs regulations which mean that “from May 2026 labels must contain details of calorie content, grams of alcohol and risks of liver disease and cancer.”

Well thank God for that. We can all rest easy now.

The whole farce would be a comedy if the chaos in the health service didn’t have real and terrible consequences, such as people dying because their illnesses weren’t diagnosed, or children in pain because their operations were cancelled.

It’s all a very handy diversion though isn’t it? As Gript editor, John McGuirk tweeted, the government has abandoned hope of solving the big structural problems, so it invents non-problems to solve instead.

Fiddling while Rome burns, used to be the phrase that best applied to those in power focusing on trivia in the midst of an emergency, though apparently there were no fiddles in Rome, so maybe Nero was just strumming a lute or whistling a tune.

Either way, the optics of fussing in the Nanny State fashion so beloved of this government instead of sorting out the chaos in healthcare are lousy, whatever some expensive press consultant has advised.

This focus on unimportant, but often media-friendly issues, seems to be based on the notion that while you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can at least fool some of the people some of the time – at least until the next election hopefully.

The sorry reality for many voters is that they may helplessly feel that the only alternative is the lunacy of Sinn Féin politics, when in reality that party may be too busy locking you up for having offensive thoughts, or being ‘hateful’, to focus much on any meaningful improvements.

There’s a real and urgent need for a ground shift in Irish politics. All voters looking in despair at this sideshow about labels on alcohol need to think hard about what might bring about that change.

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