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Unequal health service biggest threat to patient safety – Doherty

22 April, 2008


Speaking in the Seanad today Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty said the biggest threat to patient safety is the grossly inequitable nature of the health service. Senator Doherty called for an effective national strategy against MRSA to be delivered locally in every hospital, nursing home and other care setting.

He said, "The biggest threat to patient safety is the grossly inequitable nature of the health service presided over by this Government for the past 11 years. It is the single biggest issue of concern to all of our people. It is also the single biggest failure of the administrations in which Minister Harney has served as Tánaiste and as Minister for Health & Children.

"There is a tendency to personalise this issue and to target Minister Harney as if she was solely responsible. That is very convenient for the other members of the Government and especially for the Fianna Fáil members of the Government. They bear full responsibility for the disgraceful state of our public health services and for the disastrous policies that have led us into this situation.

"The members of Fianna Fáil and now also the Greens are hiding behind Minister Harney, trying to dodge their responsibility for the health services. Minister Harney in turn hides behind the HSE which is the most unaccountable quango and the most monstrous bureaucracy ever established in this State.

"We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the late Susie Long and her family. She exposed the reality of the two-tier public private system. As a public patient she was denied the timely access to a diagnosis that could have saved her life. She found that out when she talked to a private patient who was sitting beside her in the hospital waiting room.

"The Taoiseach and the Minister said the system failed Susie Long. But this was not some unusual error. That's the way the system is built. It is an apartheid public-private system and you, Minister Harney and your Government colleagues are reinforcing that system. You are pouring public money into privatised health. You are co-locating for-profit private hospitals on public hospital sites. We will never know how many Susie Longs there have been. But there must have been many thousands because these are people who were denied timely diagnosis, timely hospital care and timely access to all the range of services because they were public patients.

"MRSA and other virulent hospital-based major infections are major issues of Patient Safety. This was thrown into stark relief by the release of the first National Hygiene Service Quality Review by the Health Information and Quality Authority last November. It says the majority of public hospitals need to dramatically improve their hygiene standards. The report states that just seven of 51 hospitals have good hygiene standards, while none were found to have very good standards. Nine hospitals are rated as poor and the remaining 35 as fair. The HIQA says the findings show that most hospitals need to take measures to improve standards.

"The need for far more single rooms and isolation units to combat MRSA was clearly identified as far back as 2001 but action was not taken.

"A&E units and wards are under constant pressure and the highest standards of hygiene cannot be maintained. The privatisation of hospital cleaning services has meant that standards of cleanliness are not being kept up. Cleanliness and hygiene should be an integral part of every hospital's work, with cleaning staff employed by the hospital and part of the hospital team.

"Sinn Féin is calling for an effective national strategy against MRSA to be delivered locally in every hospital, nursing home and other care setting. Patients must be fully informed when they have MRSA and deaths attributable to MRSA should be reported to coroners. The prevalence of MRSA is one of the reasons the promised 3000 additional hospital beds need to be delivered, including single rooms and isolation units." ENDS

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