Information a great antidote to oinking

When pigs fly...Unless you have your head stuck in a bucket you will know two things 1. there is currently an outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) in Ireland and 2. I am pregnant. Not maybe of equal importance to you but fact no 2. wins in my book. Mind you if you have your head stuck in a bucket chances are you know all about swine flu already, ye poor aul thing! Photo right owned by merfam (cc)

The second fact puts me firmly me in the at-risk category and I have decided because of the public facing nature of my job that I will get the vaccination.

A couple of weeks ago I had an antenatal appointment in the Coombe where I asked for information about the vaccination. It was the day after Prime Time on RTÉ had focussed on the issue with pre-recorded interviews with at risk patients and other stakeholders and a studio discussion. My midwife told me that the Coombe were advising all pregnant women to get the vaccine but she did not have any further information for me. No leaflets. Nothing. They were also not administering the vaccine and I should ask my GP to do that. Being on combined care (where the hospital and your GP share the antenatal care – a step in the right direction!) that suited me fine as my next appointment in 2 weeks was with the Practice Nurse in my clinic. My GP had actually appeared on the pre-recorded item on Prime Time complaining about the slow reaction of the HSE to this looming health crisis. Therefore I figured I wouldn’t be getting massively impartial advice from the clinic but at least I’d get it sooner rather than later.

When I rang to make my antenatal appointment I asked could I be immunised at the same time and was told no, they had a waiting list. I figured fair enough and was actually reassured by this because it meant there was demand. When I went in on Tuesday for my antenatal appoinment I mentioned this en passant to try and gauge what sort of wait I was looking at. To be honest, I’ve been keeping public appearances to a minimum thinking I would imminently be immunised so it was important to me to know how long this personal policy might have to be kept in place. The nurse immediately told me that I would have to go to a HSE Centre in Ballally. The clinic only had the vaccine with the mercury in it which they were not giving pregnant women but I could get the other non-mercury one from Ballally. I asked her if she had a number; she took out a leaflet which looked like she had printed from somewhere herself, with a list of all the centres and narry a phone number to be had.

Luckily the receptionist had the number so I rang this morning and left my contact details. They got back to me pretty much straight away. When I asked if I could get the non-school going Nipper 2.0 vaccinated at the same time they said no. I explained that I worked full time and would prefer not to have to take time off twice, they still refused. Real caring HSE there, eh? So I said that I would come in anyway and they offered me an appointment next Monday. Coincidentally I have the day off so I said grand. However when I mentioned my address she told me that they were not our centre and I would have to go  to Tallaght. I asked her for the number and she said, “We’re a hotline, we don’t give out numbers. You’ll have to look it up.” 2 points for customer focused helpfulness racked up NOT!

So I looked up Tallaght Hospital and rang the general reception because their shocking bad website didn’t have any specific information about their immunization programme. The woman who answered told me that the Education Centre where they were doing the immunizations didn’t have a phone. I said “But how do I make an appointment?” She said on the website I, of course, had my browser open in front of me so I asked her where on the website because the expected big obvious Make an Immunization Appointment button wasn’t leaping out at me. She didn’t really respond. I said do I click on “Find a Health Service” she said yes. I said then what and she said, (brace yourself) “I haven’t seen the website. We don’t have internet access.”

My reaction? You need to ask! (After expressing my disbelief I said thanks that I’d work it out. Not before she said “I’ll have to let you go. I don’t have time to discuss it.” Apparently no-one does.)

How on earth are frontline information staff supposed to do their job if they have never even seen the website that they are advising enquirers to access?  Are the HSE staff not considered potential consumers of the information on which incidentally and very confusingly is not in fact a website dedicated to keeping the public and HSE staff informed about the virus; it’s a redirect to a page on


Once you do find the link to book an appointment, there is no clarity that if like me you choose the wrong clinic that they will not give you an appointment at that clinic. No specific areas or zones are mentioned in the information. However as I already knew I was not permitted to go to Ballally thanks to my earlier mistake I picked the correct clinic for my area and was brought to a calendar where I could see the available times and dates and sign myself up for one that suited me. That’s my lovely morning off gone. However at no point was I asked to confirm the district I was in or my postal address so really if it suited me surely I could book into any clinic as long as there was space available. Also while there is a warning that only at-risk patients and pregnant women are being immunised I was not asked to confirm this information when booking. Looking for this confirmation will not stop the committed hypochondriac from booking but it might slow them down.

This calendar idea is brilliant (however it is really ugly and if you press F5 it seems to book you in again although so far I have only received one confirmation from SuperSaaS! EDIT: I just received confirmation no. 2. Hmm maybe I will bring Nipper 2.0 with me…) and I just wonder why all health services and practitioners don’t offer and promote similar. However one only needs to look at a few hospital websites to realise that this kind of client empowerment is a long way off.

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