The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association, Liam Doran, retires at the end of the year. He’s been general secretary of the union for almost 20 years. When he joined Seán O’Rourke this morning, Seán listed off his stats: he’s currently the longest-serving senior figure attached to the health services. He’s worked with seven health ministers, five HSE directors general and five secretaries general in the Department of Health. But he actually started his professional life as a golfer in England.
“I learned very quickly that living on bread and water doesn’t go very far. And I wasn’t good enough, being blunt.”
The golfing career lasted two years. Liam says he always wanted to live in Ireland, so he came home to begin a career in nursing. He trained in Intellectual Disability Nursing at St Mary’s, Drumcar in Co Louth, where he met his wife. Then he trained in general nursing at Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda. Seán asked him if he was something of a rare specimen while he was training. “Very rare,” is the response. But he enjoyed it very much.
“When I was training as a general nurse in the Lourdes, we were not allowed to nurse female patients when they were awake.”
He was always active in what was then known as the Irish Nurses’ Organisation and when he saw an advertisement for the job of Student Officer with the union, he applied and was successful. He took up his post in June 1983 and he’s been there ever since. There are actually fewer men in nursing now than there were when Liam was training.
“We do have a challenge, we do have a problem about getting more men into the professions.”
Seán asked Liam why he thought nursing has remained 92% female. His one-word response: “money”. There is also the stereotype of it being a female profession, he added, but the main issue is pay.
“Until we improve the pay of nursing in this country, we’ll be short.”
If he was put in charge, Seán said to him, what would Liam do differently with the health service?
“I would never have met anyone at political or management level at that level, who wanted anything other than to do right.”
The last 20-odd years in the health service, Liam says, have seen so many diversions, about-turns and changes of policy direction, that no one could write it down. “We have gone from eight organisational structures to thirty-three.” If there was one thing he could do if put in charge, Liam said, it would be to “de-layer the health service”.
“I would thin out the management bureaucracies and I would empower front-line people who make the decisions.”
He told Seán how he meets business managers, case managers, directors of care, programme managers, none of whom ever see a ward.
The discussion gets tasty when it comes to the union’s involvement in the dismantling of the old Health Boards and the creation of the Health Service Executive and you can hear it all, as well as the rest of the Today programme here:
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