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Fundamental health reform needed – Ó Caoláin

19 January, 2011 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking during a Dáil debate on Health Sinn Féin Dail leader and Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the crisis in the health services pointed to the need for fundamental reform.

He said:
“I support the motion in the name of the Fine Gael Deputies. That said, the motion is limited in scope and does not describe the full extent of the crisis in our public health services.

That crisis includes
- the record number of patients on trolleys and chairs in A&E departments during January 2011, as cited in the motion
- the hundreds of beds closed in our acute hospitals due to cutbacks
- the continuing recruitment embargo which means that there are not enough nurses, junior hospital doctors and other front-line care staff to cope with the care needs of patients in our public hospitals, both in-patients and out-patients
- the rising tide of emigration of young trained health professionals
- the continuing cuts to services in local hospitals and the drive to centralisation which is reducing the overall level of care to communities across the country
- the shortage of general practitioners
- the shortage of primary care centres
- the exorbitant fees charged by many GPs
- the increased burden on medical card holders through the prescription levy
- the failure to more effectively address at source the spiralling cost of medicines, allowing profiteering by pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors to continue
- the cuts affecting care for the old, the young and the disabled
- the unregulated homecare sector
- the recent massive rise in VHI rates which imposes a further burden on thousands of families, especially those with children.

“I challenged the Minister for Health & Children Mary Harney last week during Priority Questions on the A&E situation. Her reply was mostly irrelevant to the issue at hand. There was no recognition of the extent of the crisis. She trotted out the usual guff about the system allegedly having been reformed and made more efficient. I have no doubt many efficiencies were introduced and that in many respects things have improved compared to five or ten years ago. But in other respects they have got worse.

“The fact is that in 2006 the Minister said we had a national emergency because of the numbers on trolleys in A&E. This month the numbers exceeded those of 2006 but there was no national emergency in the mind of the Minister this time.
“For example, on the 11th of January, there was the highest ever number of patients on trolleys in the Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. The equivalent of two full wards were waiting for admission in the Emergency Department. Tony Fitzpatrick of the INMO described the situation as “extremely dangerous for patients and staff”.
“The INMO called for an urgent meeting with HSE management. This is the same HSE management that gave clear and unequivocal commitments that measures would be put in place to alleviate over-crowding when they went ahead with the so-called re-configuration in the North East, including, of course, the axing of A&E at Monaghan and Dundalk.
“The INMO and others, this Deputy included, correctly predicted that the levels of overcrowding would increase when beds were closed and hospitals downgraded across the North East region. 66 patients were on trolleys in the North East on 11 January while over 200 beds have been closed in that region.
“I asked the Minister had she assessed what impact her Budget 2011 cuts will have on the A&E situation. She hadn’t. I asked if her Department and the HSE had calculated how many public hospital beds will be closed as a result of the cuts this year and in subsequent years under the four-year plan involving cuts to health of over €1.5 billion. They hadn’t.
“Once again we are drifting towards further disasters in our health services. We have had three Ministers at the helm since 1997, including the current Taoiseach and his would-be successor as Fianna Fáil leader Deputy Mícheál Martin, and all have failed miserably.
“The VHI rises could not have come at a worse time for hard-pressed families. The health insurance market expanded during the so-called Celtic Tiger years because many families with children, aware of the perils of relying totally on the public hospital system, took out personal health insurance. Now that market is shrinking again as unemployment has increased and people’s earning have decreased resulting in many having to give up their health insurance.

“All of this points to the need for fundamental health reform. Those who can afford to do so should be contributing to the provision of healthcare through fair taxation. In a new healthcare system there would no longer be a public-private divide and care would be available to all based on need and need alone and not on ability to pay. Sinn Féin has proposed the establishment of a Health Funding Commission to plan the transition to such a fairer and more equitable system.” ENDS

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