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Harney and Drumm must be challenged on healthcare chaos

22 November, 2007

Sinn Féin Health and Children spokesperson and Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin today said Health Minister Mary Harney and HSE Chief Brendan Drumm must be challenged on the chaos in the health services.

Speaking after the Minister and the HSE CEO attended the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Ó Caoláin said the crisis in cancer care and the deadlocked pharmacy dispute were just the latest examples of flawed policy and mismanagement.

Deputy Ó Caoláin stated:

"Minister Harney and Professor Drumm are presiding over chaos in our health services. They constantly assert that thousands of people are doing excellent work in the health services and tens of thousands of people are being treated successfully. That is true and it is a tribute to all who work in the health services.

"Overall the problem is not the nature of care received but access to care in the first place. The obstacle to accessible care for all who need it is the grossly inequitable two-tier nature of the system. Minister Harney is reinforcing that two-tier system and Professor Drumm is implementing policy on her behalf and on behalf of the Fianna Fáil/PD/Green Government.

"The late Susie Long was one of countless public patients denied timely access to diagnostic cancer services while paying customers in the private system can gain almost instant access. For a decade this Government has known what is required to deliver improved cancer care but it has failed to put those services in place.

"Cancer patients are being denied life-saving treatment because the Government has failed to provide the radiation oncology facilities that are required. This dire need has been recognised for many years and the Government has had ample time and a booming economy to plan and budget for the provision of radiotherapy centres.

"The Government first committed itself to public-private partnerships (PPPs) to deliver radiation oncology centres. Then it was found these would take too long. Then a review was ordered. We have been told that the centres may be delayed to 2014 or even 2015.

"Minister Harney and Professor Drumm have publicly disagreed on how they will be delivered, with Minister Harney insisting on PPPs in line with her privatisation policy. From the beginning the radiation oncology infrastructure should have been planned and delivered in the public system with equal access for all based on need alone.

"As well as being repeatedly delayed the current plan for location of centres is flawed and leaves the northern half of the country with totally inadequate provision."

Regarding the pharmacy dispute, Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"This dispute has raised the prospect of people with medical cards being denied their medication at their community pharmacy if the pharmacists withdraw from the scheme as threatened from 1 December. This is a huge concern for hundreds of thousands of medical card holders throughout the country. The proposed change to the pricing structure raises the prospect of a sharp drop in income for those pharmacists heavily dependent on the medical card scheme.

"Published on 13 November, a report commissioned by the Health Service Executive itself recommends that any changes to the wholesaler margin for medicines and the impact of these changes should be evaluated in conjunction with key stakeholders in advance of being implemented. The HSE has ignored this recommendation.

"The Minister and the HSE need to get their act together and take control of the situation with the twin aims of ensuring fairness for all involved in the GMS scheme and working to reduce the cost of medicines for the health services and consumers alike." CRÍOCH

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