There’s Lies, Damn Lies and …………… Weekends

A guilty pleasure of mine is flicking through the weekend tabloids. Usually, my reading expectations are limited to entertainment and irrelevant information but this week things took a funny turn. Well, not that funny. When a tabloid story of a storm in a Dubai ‘D’ cup (gotta be done!) seizes broadsheet headlines and the attentions of national broadcast media we are in danger of slipping into an information ice age.

There is zero requirement to explain the Dubai story, except to say the tabloids were way more informative. However, there is an urgent national requirement to ask why our mainstream media lack inquisitive energy on the subject of the vaccine roll-out activities of government, HSE and NPHET. For society, the economy and SME business owners a competent vaccine roll-out is critical. So, is accountability. Not media passivity.

There is only one set of statistics which should lead every national news bulletin; the number of patient vaccinations carried out over the previous 24 hours, and the rolling 7 day average. They are the window into our living-with-Covid future. Case numbers, hospitalisation rates, deaths and lockdown strategies provide upsetting pandemic context but fail to give strategic perspective. This backward-looking approach to the pandemic is not helpful, and sometimes downright misleading.

RTE’s science correspondent, George gLee, in recent days has been comparing current case numbers to previous lockdown periods. The comparison bases are completely different given the massive testing capacity expansion, new variants, younger demographics etc. and therefore provide very little insight on the impact of current lockdown behaviours by the public. But, they do scare and mislead. The public and desperate business owners waiting for an end to Europe’s longest lockdown deserve better. If one wanted to scare people the following data probably deserves more media scrutiny….

• Department of Health data shows there were 30,000 vaccinations done on Friday 2nd April. But on Saturday 3rd April only 8,400 vaccinations were done. The previous Sunday the number was 4,000. It would appear a global pandemic and crippling economic pressures don’t do weekends. How will monthly 1 million vaccination targets be hit if 28% of the week is operating sub-capacity?

• Hospitalisation figures have cratered by 15% in just the last 24 hours. Is it chocolate or Vitamin D which is providing some medicinal hope? Long weekends, eh.

• The Oireachtas Health Committee has been quiet on the ‘weekend effect’ on hospital discharge rates but IS issuing a report on the benefits of taking Vitamin D supplements. However, NPHET believes there is insufficient evidence to prove Vitamin D offers protection against Covid-19. Evidence, like data?

• How about the Irish Times report showing outdoor transmission accounts for just 0.1% of the State’s Covid-19 cases? Ah well, the HSE’s National clinical advisor, Dr Colm Henry, says that data is “misleading”. At this point, SME business owners are tearing their hair out but it could be worse…

• Try applying for the 2,600 vaccinator roles which still need to be filled. Those with professional medical qualifications are still being asked for hard copy proof of Leaving Cert results!

• Or try alerting the HSE that the 4th text message re a vaccination appointment is not necessary as one has already been vaccinated. Anecdotal evidence of rampant “misunderstanding” around vaccine scheduling is not confined to today’s Aviva story.

Where is the urgency or logistics expertise? Vaccination saves lives, time and….. money. But it’s difficult to spot that in the HSE world. For my sins, I flicked through the most recent HSE Annual Report(2019) after my tabloid indulgence at the weekend. It’s a whopping 184 pages long but there is no mention of financials for the first 100 pages. The HSE is by far and away the State’s biggest spender – more than €20 billion spent in 2020 – and employer with more than 100,000 personnel.

The HSE is in reality a logistics behemoth which has now been tasked with possibly the most important project in the history of the State. Credibility is critical for public and business confidence. Travel quarantine soap operas are a distraction. Vaccine scheduling u-turns for Gardai and teachers are not helpful either. But… two big questions really cause concern.

First, the HSE did not become the largest organisation on the island overnight. One would have thought a spending budget in the billions would need executives with world class enterprise management skills. So, when I checked the last employment stop of the HSE’s two most senior executives, my LinkedIn search failed to find a McKinsey, Accenture, Diageo, CRH or Goldman Sachs career footprint. Instead, there was a strikingly similar background to both executive searches. Who’d have thought Fingal County Council (yep) would forge the management skills to lead Ireland’s biggest organisation?

Now, the second question. Given the HSE was already creaking under the weight of chronic under-investment in hospital capacity, was it wise to entrust the vaccination roll-out to an already stretched management team? The project is a classic logistics task which would certainly have benefitted from expertise in the management ranks of FedEx, UPS, Maersk, Deutsche Post or DHL. Oh well, it might be too late to change the management but it is certainly time to scrutinise the data tracking delivery of this game-changing project. Just think, the “wasted” capacity over the past weekend could have vaccinated all 15,000 Gardai in the country. Instead, our media decided public interest was better served with breathless quarantine details of chest augmentations and Brazilians. All cosmetic, no substance.

The public and SME business owners deserve better media scrutiny. From now on, there is really only one data point to lead every bulletin, every single day.

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