There have been some truly tragic accidents and events in our country over the summer months that illustrate the importance of a functioning public emergency service.
Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this traumatic loss. Some commenters pause to note the impact on rescue workers who find themselves in difficult situations and assist the community immediately afterwards. Frontline services are key to providing immediate care and support when something terrible happens. Close-knit communities often close ranks around affected families, but the local garda who was first called to a crime scene can be forgotten.
Health and social workers are trained in caring for others. As the emotional toll of seeing trauma through the eyes of others has been better understood in recent years, employees now have a range of support options they can access after being part of a stressful incident. Inadequate employee support leads to psychological distress, depersonalization and retention issues.
I remember a nurse walking out of the ICU saying, “There are just too many deaths.” Formal support is important – but most of us who work in acute services would say that talking to a close colleague about how they are feeling is the most effective help.
A strong culture of collegial concern within a unit or organization makes these conversations possible. Toxic workplaces where bullying is tolerated mean those important informal debriefings don’t happen because nobody feels safe.
When my husband died suddenly a few years ago, I was struck by the number of emergency responders who flooded our home. Around 20 acute care physicians, police and social workers came to the rescue. Many stayed for hours. We never knew any of their names but to this day we are so grateful to them.
Each of these compassionate officers has been trained and motivated to provide care. In return, they have loved ones of their own who may need care from the same complex web of public services. The erosion of public services has far-reaching adverse effects.
Last month the HSE issued a report on long wait times in our National Ambulance Service (NAS) due to recruitment difficulties. Ambulances queuing outside busy emergency rooms to offload patients add to further delays in response times. Imagine the stress of a family desperately calling for help.
Restrictions on routine baby screening and developmental assessments by public health nurses sparked an outcry over the summer amid concerns about what it would mean for families.
Mental health services are another example of potential harm when a public service is neglected. Children wait months to be seen by community mental health services. Instead, parents are advised to bring acutely ill children to the emergency room.
The Children’s Ombudsman, Dr. Niall Muldoon recently published Pieces of Us, a report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child detailing the experiences of children trying to access health services.
If ever the expression “out of the mouth of babies” fitted, it is the words of children and young people waiting for help. There is no readily available private remedy for any of the above public service cuts.
Adding to the emotional stress of being involved in acute care is an awareness that services are falling short of what we aim to deliver. Having to apologize for a delay in assessment or treatment is incredibly demoralizing for teams trying to care for a patient. This can lead to burnout and the termination of excellent employees.
Public services include public health, ambulance, police, fire, social welfare, courts and borders. The list goes on and includes 300,000 workers paid by our state. They all played their part during the pandemic.
Our community is privileged to have these services staffed by outstanding people. It is difficult to imagine a functioning safe society if public services are dismantled and replaced by private providers.
dr Suzanne Crowe is a Specialist in Pediatric Intensive Care Medicine and President of the Irish Medical Council
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/when-my-husband-died-public-servants-rallied-around-us-they-are-the-glue-of-our-functioning-society-and-should-be-properly-resourced-42013553.html When my husband died, officials rallied around us – they are the glue of our functioning society and should be properly resourced