When COVID-19 was at its peak in Ireland, there was a deal struck between the HSE (Ireland’s Healthcare Service) and the private hospitals in Ireland so that private hospitals would be used publicly during the pandemic so that there would be enough ICU beds and staff to care for COVID-19 patients. Overall, I think this idea was a positive idea. We had to ensure we could care for people affected by COVID-19 and that we would have space for people, given a worst-case scenario in terms of numbers infected.
There were many negatives associated with the takeover however. Firstly, the cost was a major concern for many people. Secondly was the fact that beds weren’t in use. While we should be delighted that we didn’t need to use every single bed to treat COVID-19 patients, it could be seen as a waste of resources. I think, given the unpredictability in dealing with a novel virus, the correct decision was made to ensure those beds could be used if needs be.
However, this fed into a third negative. Due to the takeover, many people in private care could not get access to their normal healthcare. This included people undergoing cataracts treatment, chemotherapy, and elective surgeries. Now, “elective” gives you the impression that a treatment or surgery is not an emergency. On paper you may be correct but we do not get to decide how important someone else’s healthcare needs are.
My healthcare journey
Since late October 2018, I had been in the private care of a consultant due to back pain. Upon further investigation it was found that I had some serious issues with my back. I spent around the next 18 months undergoing physio, had multiple facet joint and nerve root injections. Even having private insurance, I still spent €2000 on appointments, physio, injections, etc. This doesn’t include prescriptions, nor does it account for the time lost during college. In March of this year, we decided we would consider the surgical intervention option. An elective surgery by nature and at the time, I could wait a little bit longer, I had already waited over a year.
Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 situation got worse, coincidentally so did my symptoms. The pain became unbearable. It became difficult to sit for more than 10 minutes at a time. I couldn’t sleep and more importantly at the time, I couldn’t study for my final exams. This fuelled my anxiety, which I had been dealing with since starting final year in 2019. I began to suffer panic attacks when thinking about sitting my exams. I sat my first exam but then made the decision to defer the others after suffering from another panic attack.
I consulted my doctor but unfortunately, given the private hospital takeover, my doctor was unable to provide me the care I needed. We had multiple phone calls and while he’s normally cool and calm, you could hear the frustration in his voice. My quality of life had taken a severe turn.
Lobbying for my health
It all became too much. I needed something done and so, I thought “what is the best way I can amplify my voice?” This is where lobbying comes in. On Thursday 21st May, I emailed every TD in the country. I rang Liveline and the HSE. I then spent about five hours on the phone straight. Around 4pm, my doctor rang me. My surgery would be going ahead on Tuesday 26th. Only then, after significant pressure, would my surgery go ahead.
I really cannot put into words how I felt at that moment. It didn’t really sink in until much later. Partly because I was so nervous that it would not go ahead, and I would have gotten my hopes up for nothing. Fortunately, all went well and I had my surgery. No, my surgery was not an emergency on paper, but I am not sure I would be writing this if it had not gone ahead. I had contemplated hurting myself, just so I could get the care that I needed. That is how severe things had become. It shouldn’t have to be this way.
Lessons I’ve learned
Like everything in life, this should be a lesson and there should be things we take from it that can be used in the future.
We have learned about our pandemic response measures, what worked, what didn’t, what we can afford and how easy actions can be implemented. This must be kept in mind for the future as it looks that pandemics will become more frequent in years to come.
We have seen a renewed call for a fully public healthcare system. The HSE is a shambles and I believe unfit for service. They should be ashamed of how my situation, and many others, were handled. For example, I received an email from the HSE the day following my surgery saying that I should just contact my GP. This is wrong and I am very thankful to have to great Sinn Féin TDs who got me sorted and will continue to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Recognition of my privilege. I am not well off, but my family have decided that our healthcare needs to be a priority due to many other past issues. With that, health insurance is a bill paid before most others. We are extremely lucky to be in a position to do that when so many others aren’t. Public healthcare is failing its patients. If I were a public patient, I probably wouldn’t have even undergone my first MRI.
Lobbying your politicians really can work! It is an important tool that sometimes we forget to utilise. Have your opinion heard. Email your TDs. Call them. Tweet them. Whatever gets their attention and whatever works for you. In my case, it was a combination of everything.
Everything in life is a lesson, whether we like it or not. What we do after, that’s our choice. With this lesson of mine, I want to ensure public healthcare is introduced and that people are not forgotten.