Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Ó Caoláin challenges Fianna Fáil TDs to oppose health cuts in their constituencies

5 February, 2008


Speaking in the Dáil this evening on the Private members motion on Health Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD challenged Fianna Fáil TDs to oppose cuts in hospital services in their constituencies.

He said, "People in the North East region comprising Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath are incensed by the programme of cuts across all hospital services and at every hospital site in the region revealed in the leaked HSE memo. Yesterday it was confirmed in the Irish Medical News that the plans for the North East region were discussed at the December meeting of the Board of the HSE and that these plans will be the blueprint for cuts across all regions. This is something we in the North East, and particularly those campaigning to save Monaghan General Hospital, have repeatedly pointed out. The knives that will be used to cut services in other regions have been tested and sharpened on the people of our region.

"What are the Fianna Fáil deputies from Cos. Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath going to do about it? There is no use in them shaking their heads or tut-tutting to constituents and blaming Minister Harney or their own party leadership for the 1980s style cuts that the HSE is preparing to impose in our hospitals. This week here in the Dáil they have the opportunity to make their voices heard. They can support this motion or at least refuse to support the Government amendment. I challenge them individually and collectively to make their voices heard. Instead of voting tomorrow night let them meet together and devise a common approach to help ensure that these cuts do not go ahead.

"The proposed slashing of services includes the closure of 10 beds at Monaghan General Hospital, the reduction of outpatient clinics to four days per week in Cavan and Monaghan General hospitals, the reduction of elective surgery to a four-day week in Cavan and Monaghan and the taking of Monaghan 'off call' completely, rendering its Medical and Treatment room redundant. I want to challenge Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil deputies Rory O'Hanlon, Brendan Smith and Margaret Conlon on this. Are they going to simply troop in behind their Taoiseach and their Minister for Health while pretending to the people of Cavan and Monaghan that they are doing something to stop these cuts? I say to them don't take the people for fools. You will be judged by your actions.

"Cuts are also planned in orthopaedic surgery at Our Lady's Hospital in Navan and in elective surgery at the Louth County Hospital in Dundalk and in out-patient clinics at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. What of the Fianna Fáil deputies in Meath and Louth? What will Deputies Noel Dempsey, Johnny Brady, Thomas Byrne, Mary Wallace and Séamus Kirk be doing about the cuts in their counties?

"These cuts are but a foretaste of the full implementation of the Hanly and Teamwork reports in the North East and throughout the State." ENDS

Note to editor: Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's speech follows.

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's speech follows.

PMB - Health - 5 Feabhra 2008

There is something deeply sick and shameful about a society where wealth and luxury are valued to such an extent that exclusive hotels and golf clubs and health resorts can be developed and built in a short space of time and supported by tax breaks for their wealthy owners while very ill people have to wait years in dangerous and disgraceful conditions before they see even the prospect of better facilities. Such is the case with cystic fibrosis sufferers in this State. The Pollock Report was completed in 2004 and published in 2005. It has not been implemented and people with cystic fibrosis face waiting lists, overcrowding, dangerous exposure to infection and all due to the scandalous neglect of successive governments.

I welcome and support the motion in the name of the Fine Gael deputies and the priority given to cystic fibrosis among the health issues addressed in the motion. The response of the Minister for Health and Children as given in reply to my Dáil Questions and those of other Deputies is not good enough. Every effort must be made now to provide all the facilities required for people with cystic fibrosis as recommended by the Pollock Report. No excuses will be accepted.

Once again we are debating a Private Members motion highlighting the perilous state of our health services due to the fundamentally flawed policies and the mismanagement of the government and the HSE. A look back at the past month alone shows the depth of the ongoing crisis.

People in the North East region comprising Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath are incensed by the programme of cuts across all hospital services and at every hospital site in the region revealed in the leaked HSE memo. Yesterday it was confirmed in the Irish Medical News that the plans for the North East region were discussed at the December meeting of the Board of the HSE and that these plans will be the blueprint for cuts across all regions. This is something we in the North East, and particularly those campaigning to save Monaghan General Hospital, have repeatedly pointed out. The knives that will be used to cut services in other regions have been tested and sharpened on the people of our region.

What are the Fianna Fáil deputies from Cos. Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath going to do about it? There is no use in them shaking their heads or tut-tutting to constituents and blaming Minister Harney or their own party leadership for the 1980s style cuts that the HSE is preparing to impose in our hospitals. This week here in the Dáil they have the opportunity to make their voices heard. They can support this motion or at least refuse to support the Government amendment. I challenge them individually and collectively to make their voices heard. Instead of voting tomorrow night let them meet together and devise a common approach to help ensure that these cuts do not go ahead.

The proposed slashing of services includes the closure of 10 beds at Monaghan General Hospital, the reduction of outpatient clinics to four days per week in Cavan and Monaghan General hospitals, the reduction of elective surgery to a four-day week in Cavan and Monaghan and the taking of Monaghan 'off call' completely, rendering its Medical and Treatment room redundant. I want to challenge Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil deputies Rory O'Hanlon, Brendan Smith and Margaret Conlon on this. Are they going to simply troop in behind their Taoiseach and their Minister for Health while pretending to the people of Cavan and Monaghan that they are doing something to stop these cuts? I say to them don't take the people for fools. You will be judged by your actions.

Cuts are also planned in orthopaedic surgery at Our Lady's Hospital in Navan and in elective surgery at the Louth County Hospital in Dundalk and in out-patient clinics at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. What of the Fianna Fáil deputies in Meath and Louth? What will Deputies Noel Dempsey, Johnny Brady, Thomas Byrne, Mary Wallace and Séamus Kirk be doing about the cuts in their counties?

These cuts are but a foretaste of the full implementation of the Hanly and Teamwork reports in the North East and throughout the State.

It is all a colossal fraud because in order to justify the cuts in hospital services and the over-centralisation of services in a few major hospitals the Minister and the HSE repeatedly cite the key role to be played by primary care services which they claim to be greatly improving. But where are the over 100 primary care centres we were promised in 2001? Far from improving we are now facing a new crisis in primary care because of the shortage of general practitioners. Again the North East region has been the first to sound a warning with the Irish Medical Organisation highlighting the low number of GPs and the pressure they are under. We have an ageing GP population, not enough trained GPs coming through and not enough GPs choosing to treat medical card patients. The crisis has been compounded by the HSE's refusal to fund the additional GP training places needed to bring the numbers up to the recommended 150 in this year 2008. We have too high a number of patients per GP in this State and the present system and the present Government malaise on this issue are a recipe for yet another healthcare crisis.

Two years ago A Vision for Change was published and it promised a new beginning in mental health. Progress since then has been far too slow and the reality is that people with mental illness are still being badly let down by Government. Mental health remains the most neglected sector of our health services.

It is a scandal that Health Minister Harney and the HSE have failed to produce and to carry out an implementation plan for A Vision for Change. Essential improved services were promised but are not being provided and staff are not being appointed because of the HSE recruitment embargo, as highlighted by the Irish Mental Health Coalition. While additional funding for mental health was allocated in 2006 and 2007 there was no additional money in 2008. This is doubly damaging as it was revealed that nearly half of the €50 million allocated in 2006 and 2007 to implement A Vision for Change was spent in other areas.

The unacceptable attitude to mental health that still pervades Government thinking is typified by their insistence on co-locating the new Central Mental Hospital with the proposed prison at Thornton Hall. This is against all advice from people working in the sector and flies in the face of any rights-based approach to people with mental illness.

The Irish Psychiatric Association is to be commended for highlighting the asset-stripping by the HSE in selling off lands and buildings formerly in use for psychiatric institutions and in failing to plough this funding directly back into improved services for people with mental illness. This is a huge scandal in itself and it is especially damning that the site of a proposed psychiatric unit at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin is now to be allocated to one of Minister Harney's precious private for-profit 'co-located' hospitals.

Despite all their fine words this Government is failing to deliver for people with mental illness. They must continue to be challenged on this until A Vision for Change is fully implemented.

I cited the tightening of the recruitment ban by the HSE and the damage it is doing in the area of mental health. That is true across all the front line of healthcare and it is leading to further hardship for patients and a further lowering of morale within the health services.

I could cite many other specific and pressing health issues if time allowed but I will conclude with just one.

The Irish Family Planning Association revealed last month that the number of Irish women dying from cervical cancer continues to increase every year despite the fact that this disease is entirely preventable through screening and vaccination. There is still no sign of a national screening programme in this State, nor a decision as to whether the vaccine is - in the Minister's own words - "cost effective". How many women's lives are worth the cost to this Government?

A month ago two surveys showed starkly the apartheid in our health services and the failure of this Government's policies. We saw how A&E waiting times are as bad as ever. We saw how out-patient waiting lists are as long as ever. And we saw how private patients with cancer are receiving treatment more quickly than public patients.

All this must change and I urge everyone concerned with our health services to unite in the demand for equality and excellence and for the care that all our people deserve.

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