While Mary Harney was living it up in Thailand last week, a triple whammy of problems made it one of the worst seven-day periods since she became health minister in 2004. However, her only contribution to solving the problems was a single statement issued by her department, which refused to say where she was on the basis that she was on a "private" holiday.

The issue that sparked most questions about Harney's whereabouts was last week's announcement by the VHI that its 1.3 million members would be hit with premium price hikes of 15 to 45%.

On Wednesday, some 511 patients were on trolleys in the emergency departments of hospitals. This marked the highest number ever recorded by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. The overcrowding problems were so severe in some hospitals that elective surgery had to be postponed.

And on Thursday the state's chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, called a special press conference to announce that rates of swine flu infection had doubled in the last week, with an estimated 5,000-plus cases treated by GPs in the first six days of the year.