AS I SEE IT
Inertia isn’t a word you hear very often and yet it is something that applies here with extraordinary frequency in services that are meant to make life run smoothly. The word means to do nothing or leave unchanged. Fine, if things are functioning but where they are going wrong and nothing is done crisis results: a bit akin to leaving the taps running full blast when the sink is full.
The spillover can be massive, thousands of people may be affected by a state of stasis where nothing happens, due to inertia.
You don’t have to look far for glaring examples of the impact of inertia. Take the crisis in our hospitals: staffing hospitals over weekends with consultants, doctors nurses and continuing to use expensive equipment can make significant difference to overcrowding and long delays for treatment. People don’t plan to get sick at weekends but they do.
The situation could be fixed with new contracts, fair rosters and overtime pay where appropriate but this hasn’t happened on an ongoing basis, so the public lie on trollies in A&E, wait for operations and even die.
Take the parking crisis at Dublin Airport where the DAA are short 6,000 long-term parking places during the hectic holiday season. Why? because the Competition and Consumer Protection Authority (CCPC) has to rule on a fair deal over who gets the lease for the Quick Park site and that will take months to process.
Why can’t the DAA hire a field for parking? No, they can’t, that would require planning permission and that would take until next year. This is inertia due to strangulation by red tape – why not grant a short-term lease or push through express planning permission and get the decisions made now?
It’s not as if there are handy alternatives to travelling by car: the airport bus in my neck of the woods only runs every two hours; a taxi to the airport costs around €100 and involves queueing for an hour or so on the way back. That’s all be should I want to get to the airport but thankfully I don’t. And we will have to wait decades before we get what we ought to have – a Metro service to the airport. Meantime, plans to expand to make Dublin a major European airport continue.
The Devil is in the detail and it’s in those small cogs that are meant to keep things running that snarl ups caused by inertia happen. The health service is short of skilled health workers but a log jam over visas is preventing nurses from overseas coming to Ireland. Qualified health workers from countries like India and the Far East currently need to take a costly exam and to come here on a temporary visa to do so, delays mean that applicants miss exam date . Nurses have to start the process over again or more likely decide that Ireland is not for them.
But no one takes responsibility, sounds the alarm bells, cures the visa jam or introduces a better system, before staff shortages create more misery in the health service.
There are plenty more examples: Look at CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Health Service, where chronic staff shortages mean wait times can be up to a year. Advertising for medical staff to come home from Australia won’t cut it. Why should they?
One of the ironies about these failures to act is that it’s not costly to put things right, especially when compared to the cost in human as well as financial terms in leaving them as they are. Efficient systems are surely better than dysfunctional ones. The cause of the inertia syndrome seems to lie in a fatalistic view that you have to put up with things the way they are, combined with a failure to take responsibility and use initiative. Psychological inertia is a state where individuals lack the motivation to make decisions. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the lack of stasis, of forward movement, often involves the civil service, individuals working in businesses can’t afford the inertia effect, as they either lose their jobs or their firm goes bust.
We are patient at putting up with bad service when what we really want is effective service, and when it isn’t delivered politicians are the ones who get blamed.
In physics inertia is where matter stays in an existing state until is changed by an external force. That force for change could be the way we vote in the next election.