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Tackling the Crisis in Healthcare Provision

9 December, 2007

Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin speaking today at Sinn Féin’s major conference ‘Engaging Modern Ireland’ said a government which sponsors the hospital co-location two-tier scheme can never be relied upon to deal with the underlying inequalities which contribute significantly to ill-health in our society.


Deputy Ó Caoláin said:


“In June of this year Protestant and Catholic organisations said hospital co-location “sends out a powerful message about Government backing and support for the existing two-tier hospital system” and that it “represents a significant threat to the fundamental values of care and justice, which require that health provision is seen first and foremost as an essential service, which should be available on the basis of need”.


“A Government which sponsors such a scheme can never be relied upon to deal with the underlying inequalities which contribute significantly to ill-health in our society. The Public Health Alliance of Ireland points out that death rate for cancers are 100% higher among the lowest paid and most disadvantaged of our people.


“Health inequalities are deepening under this Government and health inequalities kill. The late Susie Long, a cancer patient, was brave enough to highlight her own case nationally, not for personal redress but to expose the injustice of the system.


“The privatisation agenda of Health Minister Harney and her Government colleagues has also delayed the delivery of essential radiation oncology facilities for cancer treatment. She has insisted on the use of Public-Private Partnerships while HSE Chief Executive Brendan Drumm says the facilities can be delivered by the public system.


“The HSE Chief claims that we do not need more hospital beds. Virtually all other responsible opinion - especially those working in the front line of hospital care – assert that up to 3,000 additional beds are required. These are needed to replace the beds taken out of the system in the 1980s and never replaced.  Has Brendan Drumm even noted the 25% increase in the population of this State over the intervening years? One of the dire consequences of the lack of hospital beds is overcrowding and the resulting spread of MRSA and other virulent hospital-based infections.


“The FF/PD/Green Government claims that it will increase bed numbers by 1,500 – but 1,000 of these are supposed to come from the co-location scheme. Health Minister Harney claims that 1,000 private beds will be transferred from public hospitals to the private co-located hospitals thus ‘freeing up’ that number of public beds. But she did not answer my Dáil Question on how many beds will be transferred at each hospital.


“The reality is that co-location cannot provide the additional beds required. The Doctors Alliance for Better Public Healthcare has pointed out:




‘In general, private medicine does not provide emergency or urgent care which makes up the overwhelming majority of cases treated as in-patients in public hospitals…Most patients admitted as in-patients to public hospitals are not suitable for care in a private hospital, including most patients admitted via A&E. That is why there are patients with top level health insurance on trolleys in public A&E departments while there are beds empty in nearby private facilities.’


“Along with privatisation goes over-centralisation. If fully implemented over-centralisation will devastate hospital services, closing existing A&E units in nearly every county with further loss of services to follow.


“I want to pay tribute to all who are campaigning for decent healthcare, especially those healthcare workers who have dared to speak out. All those working in our public health services deserve our gratitude. The vast majority of them provide excellent care, in spite of the huge difficulties they face because of the inequities and the inefficiencies fostered by successive governments.


“When she was attempting to defend her record in the recent no-confidence debate in the Dáil Minister Harney asked for a cross-party consensus on cancer care similar to the consensus on the peace process. I want to take the Minister up on that offer and to go further. Yes, Sinn Féin would like to be part of an all-party agreement on health. The foundation of that agreement would be the ending of healthcare apartheid, the dismantling of the two tiers in our health system and the creation of a single-tier service with equal access for all based on need and need alone.


“Regrettably I don’t think Minister Harney will be taking up my offer.


“But we have a positive message. There can be healthcare justice. We can have equality and excellence. Sinn Féin is by no means alone in calling for a single-tier, universal healthcare system.


Throughout the country Sinn Féin’s health proposals have struck a chord. We need to continue to press key demands which include:


·         The investment of all health funding in the public system and the immediate ending of tax breaks for private hospitals and the co-location scheme.

·         A managed, phased transition to full public provision, beginning with:

-          Medical cards for all under 18.

-          An increase in the income threshold for qualification for full medical card coverage to above the poverty line, thus extending qualification to all incomes less than the 60% median income.

·         Rollout of the promised Primary Care Centres throughout the state on an accelerated timetable.

·         A timetabled and fully resourced strategy to deliver the additional 3,000 hospital beds required.

·         Halting the over-centralisation of hospital facilities and reversal of cutbacks in key services at local hospitals.

·         A plan for enhanced provision of essential public nursing home beds, community care facilities and home care.

·         The removal of the cap on numbers employed in the health service, with an emphasis on recruitment of staff providing health services direct to service-users.

“Our goal is a single-tier universal public healthcare system with equal access for all based on need alone and free at the point of delivery. We should accept nothing less. It can be done. It will be done” CRIOCH

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