Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Ó Caoláin - creeping privatisation of health service must end

5 March, 2005

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin opening the health section of the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this morning said: "It is a shame and a disgrace that elderly people who have worked all their lives and paid tax and social insurance to build up our public services now find themselves, in this day and age, lying on trolleys and chairs in hospital corridors." Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

There are over 40 motions on the Clár of our Ard Fheis covering Health and Children. They reflect the concerns of the community on these vital issues as well as the work of Sinn Féin activists throughout the country. Our TDs, Assembly members and local councillors are campaigning for equality in our health services and access to the best services for all our people. As the Ard Chomhairle motion states, we will continue to campaign for a truly national health system, the guiding principle of which will be the equitable and efficient delivery of health services and personal social services to each person as he or she requires and on the basis of need alone.

Only the State can ensure that those services are provided. That's what working people are paying for through taxation and that's what they have a right to expect for themselves and for their dependents. But the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney sees it differently. She told the Dáil last December:

"I believe in a minimalist role for the State in all our lives, including health care."

I challenged Minister Harney on this on the floor of the Dáil and I will continue to do so. We will also continue to challenge the creeping privatisation of health services and we will demand the resources -- including more nurses and other front-line staff -- that are essential.

Let's not forget that Minister Harney took over the Department of Health and Children with great fanfare last September, promising to urgently address the scandalous situation in Accident and Emergency units. The Minister acted as if it was her first day in the Dáil and as if she did not share collective responsibility for this crisis over the previous seven years. The situation is now no different from when she took over, in fact it is arguably worse. It is a shame and a disgrace that elderly people who have worked all their lives and paid tax and social insurance to build up our public services now find themselves, in this day and age, lying on trolleys and chairs in hospital corridors, an experience they share with countless others.

All of this was supposed to have been addressed under the Government's Health Strategy but that document has gone the way of so many other Government promises. Plans for the development of primary care have been shelved. The renegotiation of the consultants' contract to ensure greater equity for public patients in our hospitals is more than two years overdue. And since the current Fianna Fáil/PD Coalition was re-established in 2002 65,000 fewer people have medical cards. Well over 100,000 fewer people have cards now than in 1997 when this FF/PD Coalition was formed.

And what of the promise to end hospital waiting lists? That was supposed to happen last summer. Latest available figures show nearly 30,000 people on hospital waiting lists -- and that's not counting the many thousands more awaiting an appointment with hospital consultants before they even go on the lists. Such is the duplicity of this Government of broken promises that Minister Harney now refuses to give out updated hospital waiting list figures.

Our Ard Fheis takes place amid daily revelations about how thousands of elderly people in residential care were wrongly charged by the State over nearly three decades. It now appears that successive Ministers for Health either were aware or should have been aware of this because the knowledge was there within the system as far back as 1976. The State's response was disgraceful. The Government must start making decisions very quickly and must get information out to the general public. Above all it must repay all those entitled to repayment and without undue delay.

I urge delegates to support motion 168 which calls for the establishment of a Redress Board for the women victims of gross negligence and malpractice at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda under the regime of Michael Neary and others.

I ask delegates to oppose motion 197 that seeks the deregulation of the Retail Pharmacy Sector. This has already happened in January 2002. We have arguably the most deregulated Retial Pharmacy Sector in Europe. If the motion proposers are seeking equality of access to all prescription and non-prescription drugs and medicines then we need to direct our focus on where the problem eminates and that is the pharmaceutical industry. Government can also help alleviate the stress of families today by returning the threshold of the Drugs Payment Scheme to €70.

I urge you to support motion 203 calling for greatly increased co-operation between health services on both sides of the Border. That is especially important for the Border region where hospitals such as Dundalk, Monaghan and Cavan are suffering from either the loss of services and neglect or both as this Government continues its drive towards a small network of all singing, all dancing, all hell regional hospital sites. This centralisation agenda is also leading to real suffering for cancer patients who must travel very long distances for treatment and motion 173 calls for the establishment of radiotherapy units in the regions in addition to those promised for Dublin, Cork and Galway. We support the case for radiation oncology services at Waterford, Limerick and Letterkenny and in the North East HSE region.

We in Sinn Féin are not just about identifying the problems and the injustices perpetrated and unaddressed by successive Governments. We are also about identifying solutions. Last year the Sinn Féin TDs used our Private Members Time in the Dáil to table a comprehensive motion on the need for a proper childcare infrastructure in Ireland. Resolution 210 on the clár reproduces that Sinn Féin Dáil motion which secured the support of 50 TDs across all opposition parties and independents. We received a very enthusiastic response from people across the country. We made childcare our central demand in our pre-Budget submission. Sinn Féin councillors around this State tabled motions on childcare in response. In the Budget the Government neglected childcare yet again and this was identified as the biggest single failing in Brian Cowen's first Budget.

We will continue to campaign on this issue and we will use the motion on your clár to develop a comprehensive policy. Make no mistake, we don't just want a document on a shelf, or a campaigning issue but a policy that we will implement in Government.

In conclusion I commend and congratulate all those working in the front line in our health services and in our childcare services. Most of those workers are women and their skill and dedication is an inspiration. Let us harness that skill and dedication, let us replicate it in political campaigning let us unite to build the public services that all our people need and deserve.

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