Ó Caoláin - health service in disarray
For almost six years Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have been in government in this State. In that time two of their senior Ministers, Brian Cowen and Mícheál Martin, have presided over the most unfair, the most inequitable and the most bureaucratic health service in western Europe. They and their colleagues - and especially their Taoiseach Bertie Ahern - have failed miserably to transform the health services as they promised. Before the General Election they promised to extend the Medical Card to a further 200,000 people and they broke their promise. They promised not just to cut but to eliminate hospital waiting lists after two years and that promise disappeared into thin air after the General Election. They repaid the electorate for their support by increasing the costs of medicines and hospital visits. And they have left health boards and hospitals with inadequate budgets so that we have the shameful prospect of beds being closed while the old and sick languish on waiting lists. It is a scandal and a disgrace.
Armies of task forces have reported on all aspects of the health service. They have built up mountains of reports. But where is the political leadership to end the apartheid in the system? Where is the political leadership to take on the vested interests such as the elite consultants who dominate the health services? Where is the leadership to stop the private healthcare industry from exploiting the public system? The answer is that there is no leadership from this Fianna Fáil/PD government. Their patron saint is Pontius Pilate as they stand aside and allow the closure by stealth of hospitals like Monaghan and Louth and watch gross inequality flourishing throughout the system.
The Irish people want and deserve fair and efficient health services. They don't want a system where wealth can buy instant access to the best of care in the private system while the public system is plagued with waiting lists and cutbacks. Unlike Charlie McCreevy, I believe the vast majority of people value their health and that of their children, and the public services which care for health, more than they value a few extra euros in their pocket from tax cuts. So let us promote Sinn Féin's vision for a new National Health Service, with free access for all at the point of delivery, funded through a fair system of general taxation.
This will require massive change and massive commitment. But I believe the dedicated workers at all levels of the health services, the patients and the communities will respond to real leadership and real dedication to fairness and equality. Sinn Féin can provide that leadership, so let us go out there and campaign for a truly National Health Service.