Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Healthcare service a human rights scandal

3 March, 2004


Speaking on the Party's motion on Healthcare during Private Members' Business this evening, Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD strongly criticised the Health Minister Micheál Martin for failing to provide equal access to healthcare for all calling the health service "a human rights scandal". Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Sinn Féin believe that healthcare is a basic, fundamental, equal right of everyone. The World Health Organisation asserts that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being and the realisation of this right can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures. This Government is in breach of these international standards. The equal right to healthcare is violated by this Government on a daily basis through their insistence on pouring taxpayer money into a failed two-tier healthcare model where those who need healthcare most are the least likely to get it.

"Ten years after the economic boom, Travellers are only now reaching life expectancy levels that settled people reached in the 1940s. The Government have financially strangled the Traveller Health Strategy because Travellers do not wield enough economic power or enough votes to ensure that this Government gives their healthcare needs the unquestionably urgent attention they deserve.

"The failure of successive Governments to ensure that the service meets the international standards was highlighted in a campaign by Amnesty International. The mentally ill, many of whom end up homeless or as prisoners, have no means to buy the Government's favour. They are just not powerful enough to matter to Fianna Fáil and the PDs.

"Delivery on the healthcare rights of all should be among the very highest priorities of any Government. For the Government of the fourth wealthiest state in the world to preside over the present state of affairs in our healthcare service is nothing short of a human rights scandal revealing mismanagement and incompetence of the highest order. ENDS

Full text

Yesterday the Minister misled the House when he said that the Sinn Féin motion failed to outline alternatives for the healthcare system. Perhaps the Minister did not bother to read the motion all the way to the end. If he had, he would see that the Sinn Féin alternative is there in black and white. That is, to phase out the failed, unjust two-tier public-private system and replace it with a universal public healthcare service which delivers health services free to all at point of delivery regardless of income, and for this service to be funded from general, progressive taxation so that the rich pay their fair share.

Sinn Féin proposes these fundamental reforms because we believe that healthcare is a right. A basic, fundamental, equal right of everyone. And we are not alone in this. This is not some "loony left" notion. The international community reached consensus on this issue more than half a century ago. The right to health is reflected in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In keeping with these instruments the World Health Organisation not only asserts that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of economic or social condition, but also concludes that Governments have a responsibility, and that the realisation of this right can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.

Yet when we look at this state we realise that this Government is in breach of these international standards. That the equal right to healthcare is in fact violated by this Government on a daily, systematic basis through their insistence on clinging to and pouring taxpayer money into a failed two-tier healthcare model which has created a situation where those who get sickest and are at greatest risk of early death -- in other words, those who need healthcare most, the most vulnerable -- are the least likely to get it due to delays, shortages, inadequate provision and discrimination on the basis of inability to pay and other grounds.

The Minister for Health said yesterday that he is proud of his record, and he had no shortage of fancy facts and figures to deflect attention from his failures. Minister are you proud of the crisis at James' Hospital in Dublin. Last year I asked the Minister to investigate the case of a man who died there after spending 12 hours on a hospital trolley without being seen by a doctor. My own father-in-law spent two days there on a trolley in an A & E cubicle which he shared with another patient on another trolley, after watching a Government Minister jump the queue. Only last month this same A & E Unit was closed to further admissions for the first time since 1989 after a senior consultant declared that overcrowding had reached dangerous levels. I ask, is the Minister proud that a young child died last year because the heart operation she was scheduled for at Crumlin Children's Hospital had to be cancelled because the resources just weren't there?

Is the Minister proud of his Government's record on reducing the massive health inequalities in this state? Ten years after the economic boom Travellers are only now reaching life expectancy levels that settled people reached in the 1940s. Their infant mortality rate is still twice as high and only 3% of Travellers live to be older than 65. What has this Government done to change this appalling, shameful situation? Since their re-election in 2002 they have financially strangled the Traveller Health Strategy. No additional funds were provided last year and this year the Government cut the budget by €1 million - not because the funds no longer needed, but because Travellers do not wield enough economic power or enough votes to ensure that this Government gives their healthcare needs the unquestionably urgent attention they deserve.

Is the Minister proud to preside over the appalling scandal that is the chronically underfunded and neglected mental healthcare service in this state - where some recommendations for reform have been outstanding for 20 years now?

The failure of successive Governments of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour to ensure that the service meets the international standards was highlighted in a dedicated campaign launched by Amnesty International almost exactly one year ago. But has this Government responded with appropriate urgency? Have they dedicated the necessary resources from the budget? No. And why? Again, because the mentally ill - many of whom end up homeless or as prisoners as a direct result of the lack of care - have no means to buy the Government's favour. They are just not powerful enough to matter to Fianna Fáil and the PDs.

Delivery on the healthcare rights of all should be among the very highest priorities of any Government. For the Government of the fourth wealthiest state in the world to preside over the present state of affairs in our healthcare service is nothing short of a human rights scandal revealing mismanagement and incompetence of the highest order. And it is on this charge that Minister Martin stands indicted by this House.

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