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Reminder: “Hospitals under pressure” is not new, in Ireland

To read the media’s breathless, relentless, efforts to stoke fear and panic about the state of the covid pandemic in Ireland, one would be forgiven for thinking that Irish hospitals were facing some sort of unprecedented crisis. Here’s RTE’s Fergal Bowers:

And here’s the Irish Times, worrying about Paul Reid declaring the situation “stark”:

The implication in the reporting is clear: That Irish hospitals are facing some sort of barely precedented covid-driven capacity crisis.

Absent from almost all of this reporting is a simple fact: That the Irish healthcare system has faced capacity crises, endlessly, year after year, for about two decades.

Consider that in August, 2011, over six thousand people – yes, six thousand – were waiting on a hospital bed because there were none available.

In March, 2011, hospitals were being urged to discharge people prematurely, due to overcrowding and a shortage of beds.

In 2014, the Irish Times reported that patients were “dying unnecessarily” in Ireland, while waiting on hospital beds.

That same year, patients were “overflowing onto trollies”.

On and on, and on, and on, the examples go.

In fact, almost every year of your adult life, if you are aged about 45, you will have been exposed to stories about an unprecedented crisis in the Irish health service.

On none of those occasions – even when people were “dying unnecessarily” – was there any push for restrictions on the public in order to protect the health service.

The story of Coronavirus in Ireland is not a story of unprecedented crisis. It is a story of an unprecedented response to a crisis that happens year in, and year out, and one which generations of politicians have been unwilling, or unable, to solve – a lack of beds in our hospitals.

The lack of beds is not controversial, or a dubious claim. It is backed up by the OECD, who are by no means radical extremist anti-lockdowners, like me. In 2018, they found that Ireland had the fourth lowest number of hospital beds, per capita, of any country in the group.

EU Statistics show that Ireland has 278 hospital beds for every 100,000 people. Poland, a much poorer country, has 473 beds for every 100,000 people. Bulgaria has 624 such beds, for every 100,000 people.

In years past, of course, politicians took the blame for the annual, or multi annual, crisis in hospital capacity. Covid has changed that.

Today, politicians have a new option: They can blame the public for the crisis. It is the fault of the unjabbed, all 7% of them. It is the fault of people losing the run of themselves. It is the fault of pubs and nightclubs.

No – none of that. It is the fault of consecutive governments, over many years, who have conspired to leave Ireland in a situation where it spends more on health than almost any other country in Europe, and yet has fewer hospital beds than almost any other country in Europe.

And yet, the media, and opposition, largely continue to let them off the hook on that point. Those stories don’t do as well as the pro lockdown ones, you see.

 

 

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