Alice Leahy addressing annual Gathering of the Mercy Associates in Tipperary, April 24, 2005

“Legislation must be put in place to protect the right of front line care workers to act as advocates in defence of their patients and the most vulnerable”

Alice Leahy, Director and Co-Founder of TRUST Addressing Annual Gathering of the Mercy Associates in Tipperary

Press Release, April 24, 2005

“People who work with the outsiders in society end up being treated like outsiders themselves, especially when they try to speak out on their behalf. Nurses are very vulnerable, as I know from personal experience as a nurse myself, and only something like a “Whistle Blowers Charters” offers any hope of real change in our Health Service, especially in terms of protecting the interests of the most vulnerable,” ALICE LEAHY, Director and Co-Founder of TRUST, the social and health services for people who are homeless, said this weekend addressing the Annual Conference of the Mercy Order in Ballyglass, Co Tipperary.

“Newspaper headlines this week that stated nurses who protested about conditions in A&E were told to stay quiet should set off alarm bells. Front line people are of necessity the best informed about what is going on. Nurses are also the people who meet the most vulnerable in highly vulnerable situations, not only in A&E, but in all sections of the health, social and homeless services. If they are silenced and their voices are not heard societies most vulnerable suffer most,” Alice Leahy said.

Alice Leahy said that at a time when there was so much wrong with the Health Service, those with the most knowledge about what is really going on must be protected when they speak out and the case for a “Whistle Blowers Charter” for nurses is overwhelming.

Drawing on her personal experience of working with people who are homeless, especially in trying to help them with their health needs, Alice Leahy described the current Health Service as operating with “a potentially fatal constraint, an insensitive management philosophy, driven by an over emphasis on the wrong kind of performance indicators, benchmarks and other business tools.”

We are probably unique in Europe when you have the Minister for Health accusing the management of “systemic maladministration” a statement few who work in the front line in the Health Service would disagree with Alice Leahy said.

“We constantly hear complaints that the health services are insensitive to people’s needs and allegations that unfeeling bureaucracy is out of touch. In most cases this is true but only because those in the frontline with the knowledge and experience are not consulted. However, it is even more important that they have the legal protection to speak out when the need arises, especially at a time when health professionals who take time to care properly for their patients are made to feel they are ‘wasting time with people’ ” Alice Leahy said.

Describing the experience of a fifty year old man who is homeless when he needed medical treatment, to illustrate the way the current management philosophy of the Health Service is “out of touch and inappropriate” Alice Leahy went on:

” “Ray” a fifty year old man who has been homeless for several years provided me with very practical evidence of this recently when he described what happened when he went in search of treatment: “They don’t see you now, they examine you on the computer and give you a piece of paper, then you leave.” If people have deep psychological problems and cannot cope when they seek help just processing them like an inanimate object will only ensure they drift from one service to another never getting help and costing the State even more money! Taking time is not expensive if we want to end the cycle of alienation and exclusion that produces outsiders on our streets.”

“The undervaluing of human contact and front line care has made life especially difficult for the outsiders in society, who we meet everyday. A philosophy of caring is good for people but it is also the most “economic” in the long-term. We would argue for it even if it was more expensive but the evidence available suggests the opposite is the case and an even greater irony is that the current management philosophy which is supposed to expose inefficiency has only served to help senior mangers maintain a cover up, not least by tending to treat people who speak out as part of the problem,” ALICE LEAHY said.