Radio: The nation's pulse rages

Sometimes Joe Duffy catches the pulse of the Irish nation and lets it beat with rage. He did this for three days last week with Rosie's story (Liveline, Monday to Friday, 1.45-3pm, RTÉ Radio1). Like half of the Irish population, Rosie does not have private health insurance. She had gone to her GP in the summer of 2005 with stomach trouble and was referred to the public health system for a colonoscopy. Her symptoms deteriorated and despite the urgency of her situation she had to wait seven months for the colonoscopy, by which time she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Rosie (not her real name) is 40, has two teenage children and has less then three years to live. The day before she appeared on Liveline, she was getting chemotherapy alongside a man with the same diagnosis. He too had bowel cancer but had got his colonoscopy within three days of seeing his GP. He was a private patient.
That night Rosie heard an ad on the radio encouraging people to get checked out if they had any possible concerns about having colon cancer. “Early diagnosis can save lives,” the radio ad said. But early diagnosis can only save lives if the services are there to diagnose you. Rosie, along with two million other Irish people, is treated as a public patient in the bottom half of a two-tier health system where you get a slower, often poorer quality of service that puts lives at risk.

Rosie was angry, so what did she do? She wrote an email to Joe entitled ‘I am going to die because of public waiting lists', in which she told her potent story of injustice. No one could have scripted it better. It was fantastic radio. Joe the social worker, Joe the rabble-rouser, Joe at his best, identifying a huge inequality in the Irish health system and letting Rosie talk, cry, be furious.

“If Bertie Ahern or Mary Harney or Michael McDowell or Micháel Martin or any of that shower were near me I would have killed them,” Rosie told Joe Duffy. “There should not be private health versus the public health system, there should not be a two-tier health system,” said Rosie. She and her family do not have health insurance as they can't afford it, but she said even if they could afford it, they would not have it out of principle: “There should be one system for all.”
Liveline got hundreds of calls. You couldn't but be moved by Rosie. The next day, doctors came on the show verifying the caller's experiences of unequal healthcare for public and private patients.

The following day, the show opened with Joe talking to people about the difference in waiting times between public and private care: six months for public, two days for private; 8-10 weeks for public, the next day for private; four months for public, two days for private... Throughout the show more and more examples and outrage at differences in accessing hospital care. And this only a small, evident part of largely hidden inequalities in the Irish health system. For example, public patients often do not get to see a consultant while in hospital while private patients get consultant-only care. Rage on Joe...π