Can this be the Ireland that for so many years sent talented doctors and nurses to poorer countries all over the world? Can this be the wealthy Ireland of 2006, the Celtic Tiger, competing for investment from the world’s top corporations?
Regrettably, yes. The respected Swedish think-tank, Health Consumer Powerhouse, found that only Lithuania ranked lower than Ireland, and even at that the former Soviet republic offered better value for money for medical services.
The report said Irish patients endure long waiting times; that medical outcomes are “bleak;” and that infant mortality rates are comparatively high. The hospitals — to which Irish Americans proudly contributed from the 1930s right through to the 1980s through the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake — are often infected with MRSA, a “superbug” which can be fatal to patients already weakened by illness or surgery.
Healthcare has become a huge issue in Ireland, and is likely to dominate the general election scheduled for next year. The current government has poured hundreds of millions of euro into the system, to little avail. Despite the tough talk of fundamental reform, notably from the junior coalition partner, the Progressive Democrats, there has been little improvement.
Meanwhile, more than half the population has joined private health insurance companies, an effective way of jumping the waiting line for operations. Without fundamental improvements in the system, the numbers opting for private healthcare will continue to soar.
Irish Americans are watching this unfold with dismay. Leaving aside the ideological debate in this country about “socialized medicine,” everyone agrees Americans are simply paying far too much for their healthcare — twice as much per head as any other country.
For Ireland to stumble unwittingly into replicating our flawed system, instead of learning lessons from America and building a better one, would just be plain dumb.