It is unlikely that the sparrow on the nut-feeder in the garden knows that the latest scare to plague our health service involves an oral medicine specialist in Belfast, mis- and/or late cancer diagnoses and the sense that nobody knows why things went wrong. The Minister for Health, Michael McGimpsey, Ulster Unionist, a stooped, almost patrician, career politician, has apologised and instituted an inquiry. His nemesis, The Minister of Finance, Sammy Wilson, Democratic Unionist Party, a stocky populist who thinks art in hospitals is a waste of money, chastises him for failing to run the health service on budget.
In the unique form of democratic government we live under, these two ministers are in coalition together, but because they will soon be fighting an election they appear to be at each others' throats. Meanwhile, threats to the health budget are tossed about the print and broadcast media and the twin seams of journalistic gold – private pain and public fear – are carved wide open. The loud-mouth phone-in talk show radio host, Stephen Nolan, bellows his own importance, while mining these twin seams with intrusive stories of individual crises and inane circular interviews with the two Ministers. It's enough to frighten the sparrow, pecking away on the nut-feeder.
This latest story follows on the scandal of the unreporting of 18, 000 x-ray records at our local hospital, Altnagelvin, an Anglicisation of the Irish place-name Ailt na Gealbhán, the ravine of the sparrows. Once again there have been apologies to people who were affected, including patients with late diagnoses for cancer. And yet no one seems to know what actually happened. At what point do you say, if you happen to be in charge of radiography services, perhaps we should look at this unreported x-ray issue? At 100? 1 000? 5 000? How do you not see – and not deal with – such a backlog?
The delicacy of flying machines was highlighted in the plane crash at Cork Airport. A commuter flight from Belfast, trying to land in fog, flipped over and landed on it's back. Six people died and another six people suffered various injuries. Grief and loss is wide-spread across this island. Inquiries are under-way. Will we be able to see, forensically, into and through the event, so that we might know?
The sparrow pecks at the nuts. Such a fragile fretwork of bones, gristle and feathers. Such avid attention. Such obvious insouciance regarding oral health scares, unreported x-rays and plane crashes.
The phone-in radio show host gulders. The sparrows vanishes. Like an ace up a conjurer's sleeve.