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Healthcare system needs urgent reform: Archbishop

By Sarah Mac Donald - 02 March, 2014

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Sr Eugene Nolan RSM of the Mater Hospital.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Sr Eugene Nolan RSM of the Mater Hospital.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has said reform of the healthcare system is “urgent.”

Speaking as he blessed the new Whitty Wing of the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin, the Archbishop said the pace of reform of the health system “is slow and complicated” and the money does not seem to be there. 

Referring to “current controversies” which have damaged all voluntary and civil society organisations, the Archbishop acknowledged that many have been “unjustly tarnished by association, though mismanagement and lack of oversight on the part of a few.”

He said this was not helped by the “culture of spin” on the part of many who were responsible on both sides “for the winking and nodding of the past.”  

“We hear about bad management in the voluntary sector; but we also hear of poor oversight on the part of the agencies of the State,” Archbishop Martin observed.

Asking what should be the nature of the cooperation between the State, its agencies and the voluntary sector, he said a new model of cooperation and appreciation of each other’s roles was needed.

“Our healthcare system will not be reformed by sterile polemics,” he warned and added, “We need vibrant public debate on the matter rather than polemics, or spin, or the hidden pressure of interest groups.”

Referring to the context those working in healthcare are faced with today, he said they were often dealing with a combination of increased numbers accessing the system, reduced funding and at the same time legitimate demands for ever higher standards.

In his address, Archbishop Martin described the opening of the new Whitty Wing of the hospital as “a new step in the modern history” of the Mater.  

The spacious atrium with its hub of elevators and escalators leading off to the varied activities of the hospital ticked all the boxes of “state of the art”, “best practice”, “medical excellence”, he praised.

But Archbishop Martin said the day’s celebrations were taking place with an eye on the past and on the roots and the history of the hospital. 

“If I were asked why the Church should remain engaged in the public health sector and what are its credentials for doing so, I would answer with two words: Catherine McCauley.”

Whitty Wing. Photo courtesy:– Paul Sherwood

Whitty Wing. Photo courtesy:– Paul Sherwood

Asking what were the roots and origins of the Mater, he said they came from the “Christian idealism of a remarkable woman whose entire life was dedicated to seeing that the poor of Dublin, especially girls, would get proper access to education and healthcare.”

“If I were to be asked today how I would evaluate the success or failure of our healthcare system, I would answer probably with the same answers that Catherine McCauley and her friends would have answered with in their time: what is the level of access of the poorest in our society to adequate healthcare?” 

He said he would judge the quality of a modern hospital obviously by it being state of the art and reflecting medical excellence and being efficient. 

“But I would judge it overall by the human experience of interaction with personnel who care and who take time and treat me as the person that I am in the entirety of my individuality. Technical excellence is vital but on its own it is not enough. Technology can even de-humanise.” 

Mother Catherine McCauley had formed around her a group of equally remarkable women who set out to turn an insight and a dream into a reality. One of these was Mother Vincent Whitty, the Archbishop explained.  

Recalling the launch of the book “Caring for the Nation” by Sr Eugene Nolan, RSM, last autumn, he said he had asked if he could bring with him a friend who was staying as his house guest at that time: the former Archbishop of Brisbane, Archbishop John Bathersby. 

Caring for the Nation by Sr Eugene Nolan.

Caring for the Nation by Sr Eugene Nolan.

“I had no idea that he was to become almost the star of the day – except for Sr Eugene, the author of the book, as Mother Whitty was responsible for the building of 20 convents of Mercy, including a Mater Hospital, in Queensland and she is buried in Brisbane. The name and the fame and the charism of the Dublin Mater have indeed spread to many parts of the world.”

The Archbishop concluded with a prayer that the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital would continue to be “a landmark of care” in the city of Dublin and further afield.

And that it “witness in changed times unscrupulously and unashamedly to the loving kindness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and permit its faith-based origins to bring an added quality to all the work of healing and caring that takes place here, especially that hidden generosity and gratuitousness which must be the mark and the real contribution of the voluntary sector.” 

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