Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Cost of tax breaks for private hospitals would have paid for HPV Vaccination – Ó Caoláin

11 November, 2008 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, speaking during the Private Members Motion on the decision to axe the HPV Vaccination programme, said the money spent on tax breaks for the developers of private hospitals could have paid for the HPV Vaccination Programme several times over.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "Once again the Dáil has to call to account this discredited Minister for Health & Children for yet another disgraceful decision that will have a most negative impact on the health of the people. Last weekend the Minister's party abolished itself but it's a great pity that the anti-people policies of the PDs, so long now embraced fully by Fianna Fáil, were not abolished as well. But those policies live on in Fianna Fail and in this Government.

"The decision to cancel the HPV vaccination programme arose from an ethos and a policy which puts public health in second place to petty book-keeping and a privatisation agenda.

"The Health Information and Quality Authority has estimated the total cost of introducing the HPV vaccine at €9.7 million. Allegedly to save this sum a public health programme which would have saved women's lives is being axed by Minister Harney. Yet the Budget left intact the tax breaks for the developers of private hospitals at far greater cost. In the year 2006 alone - the latest year for which figures are available - this Government gave tax breaks worth €10.6 million to the developers of private for-profit hospitals.

"In a budget that slashed public services those tax breaks were left untouched. They could have paid for this vaccination programme several times over. Also untouched in the Budget was this Minister's and this Government's totally discredited private hospital co-location scheme." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's speech follows:

PMB: HPV cervical cancer vaccination programme 11/11/08

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin Dáil leader

Health & Children spokesperson

Once again the Dáil has to call to account this discredited Minister for Health & Children for yet another disgraceful decision that will have a most negative impact on the health of the people. Last weekend the Minister's party abolished itself but it's a great pity that the anti-people policies of the PDs, so long now embraced fully by Fianna Fáil, were not abolished as well. But those policies live on in Fianna Fail and in this Government.

The decision to cancel the HPV vaccination programme arose from an ethos and a policy which puts public health in second place to petty book-keeping and a privatisation agenda.

The Health Information and Quality Authority has estimated the total cost of introducing the HPV vaccine at €9.7 million. Allegedly to save this sum a public health programme which would have saved women's lives is being axed by Minister Harney. Yet the Budget left intact the tax breaks for the developers of private hospitals at far greater cost. In the year 2006 alone - the latest year for which figures are available - this Government gave tax breaks worth €10.6 million to the developers of private for-profit hospitals. In a budget that slashed public services those tax breaks were left untouched. They could have paid for this vaccination programme several times over. Also untouched in the Budget was this Minister's and this Government's totally discredited private hospital co-location scheme.

I would remind the Green Party of what their current leader, then their Health spokesperson, John Gormley said of the PDs in February 2007:

"Not only have the PDs failed to deliver on their promises, they have managed to deliver on things which they did not promise, such as the privatisation of the health service. They have absolutely no mandate for this ill-conceived proposal."

Deputy Gormley also said:

"Ireland has one of the highest cancer rates in the world and with this Government refusing to deal with the problem, the statistics are likely to continue to grow."

Deputy Gormley and his colleagues will troop in to vote down this motion side by side with their Fianna Fail and ex-PD colleagues. I would advise the Green Party to change their logo from a sunflower to a banana. When they went into Government with Fianna Fáil they were green. They turned yellow. And now they're going rotten.

The Minister announced the HPV programme only three months ago and now it has been axed. The manner in which the cancellation was announced was typical of the sly management of bad news by this Government. It was released on the day of the US presidential election.

The Minister has made what I can only describe as pathetic efforts to defend this decision. She has repeatedly tried to make people believe that it was somehow a choice between continuing the rollout of the cervical cancer screening programme or introducing the HPV vaccination programme. That is completely wrong and deceptive on two counts.

First of all, screening is not a substitute for vaccination. The vaccination programme is to prevent the forms of cervical cancer concerned. The screening programme is to detect cancer when it occurs. It cannot be a case of either/or. To save women's lives, both programmes should be in place.

Secondly, the Minister's argument is false on the grounds of cost. I have already identified one area where much greater savings could be made while allowing this programme to proceed. It has also been pointed out that the public procurement of the vaccine on the scale needed would entail significant price reductions. One estimate puts the cost as low as €7 million. In terms of the delivery of the vaccine there is no reason why it cannot be administered in conjunction with other vaccination programmes. And this is to say nothing of the savings to the health service that will be made by preventing this cancer.

Beyond the figures and the book-keeping let us not forget that what we are talking about here are the lives and health of women in this country.

When the Minister first announced the programme back in August it was widely welcomed. HIQA said that it was a welcome decision and that "a vaccine programme, together with a cervical cancer screening programme, will have a significant impact on reducing the incidence of cervical cancer for women in Ireland".

In June HIQA had published the Health Technology Assessment of the role of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines in Reducing the Risk of Cervical Cancer in Ireland.

HIQA pointed out that infection with HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer which is the 8th most frequently diagnosed cancer in women in Ireland. In 2004 alone, 200 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, while over 90 women died of the disease. HIQA continued, and I emphasise:

"Vaccination against HPV therefore represents a new opportunity to reduce the incidence of, and mortality from, this form of cancer."

Following a request from the National Cancer Screening Service Board, the HIQA agreed in July 2007, to carry out a Health Technology Assessment (HTA) on the role of vaccination against HPV in reducing the risk of cervical cancer in Ireland. The Authority asked the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics to undertake the HTA. The purpose of this assessment was to establish the cost-effectiveness of a combined national HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening programme compared to a cervical cancer screening programme alone.

The results of this cost-effectiveness analysis showed that universal HPV vaccination of 12 year old females would be cost-effective. The report also recommended a once-off vaccination programme for 13 to 15 year-old females. At older ages, the vaccine becomes less effective due to an increased likelihood of females being exposed to the virus before vaccination.

The final report, the findings of which were approved by the Expert Advisory Group which was convened by the Board of HIQA, was submitted to the Minister for Health and Children, the National Cancer Screening Service Board and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee. On that basis the Minister for Health and Children announced in August her decision to proceed with the vaccination programme. Now all that careful assessment and analysis and all the expert advice has been turned on its head by the Minister.

Irish Cancer Society chief executive John McCormack has said the Minister's decision to cancel the vaccination programme is "very disappointing" and that "one euro's prevention is as good as two euros of cure".

The Dublin Well Woman Centre has said that the Minister's decision is both short-sighted, dangerous and an illogical move that will cost even more in the long-term.

I repeat - savings could and should have been made on tax breaks for the private health industry, not on programmes that will enhance the health of women and prevent much greater cost in the future both in terms of the well-being of individuals and the cost to the health service of cancer treatment.

When the Minister introduced the Bill establishing HIQA she said:

"The establishment of HIQA and the Office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services will bring about a safer health and social services system that entrenches quality at all levels and in all settings. We are all learning from the past and leaving the past behind."

The Minister's decision on the HPV vaccine shows that far from learning from the past she and her Government colleagues are repeating the mistakes of the past. I appeal to them to reverse this decision and if the Government will not do so then let those on the benches opposite, some of whom must share the Opposition's incredulity at this decision, vote against the Government amendment tomorrow night.

Sinn Féin supports the motion from the Fine Gael deputies.

Connect with Sinn Féin