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Sinn Féin call for Rural Health Taskforce

24 June, 2006


Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP speaking at a party conference on Rural Health in Gulladuff today, Saturday 24th June has called for the establishment of a Rural Health Taskforce.

Mr Doherty said:

"The recent campaign around rural planning was about much more than planning. It was about what we need to do to sustain our rural communities and ensure that they can thrive and prosper. It was about how rural schools and other essential services remain viable and how we can maintain the fabric of rural communities.

"The legacy of British and unionist policy on our rural communities means that West of the Bann, in Border area, that communities are starting from a lower baseline.

"Nowhere is this starker than in the delivery of health services. Centrally driven polices have undermined the long-term sustainability of health services. An artificial border and the insanity of running two separate health systems back-to-back have compounded these barriers.

"Lack of transport infrastructure, and huge cuts to the maintenance budgets for the rural roads network in recent months, reinforce problems of access.

"Just as we have committed ourselves to wider agenda on rural Ireland we need to commit ourselves to a broad based campaign on rural health. We need to champion an approach that moves far beyond the re-arranging of the deckchairs approach and demands that there is a totally new approach to rural health - an approach that can find and deliver solutions.

"At the heart of the campaign around Health Care in Rural Ireland are three
key principles:

1. A Rights based approach to health
2. An All Ireland approach to Rural Health Care
3. Developing a Health Service that is responsive to local needs

"This will require a shared vision and co-ordination of activities; the development of strategic alliances; lobbying for proper health care as part of Bill of Rights; an assessment of best practice and looking at how other European countries who share common borders deal with access to healthcare." ENDS

Full Text of Speech

Pat Doherty - Rural Health Conference

I am delighted to see so many activists from across Ireland here today for
this conference today.

A number of years ago I held the party brief responsible for Agriculture and
Rural Development. It was clear to many of us that governments in Dublin and
London were abandoning rural Ireland.

The recent campaign around rural planning highlighted many of the issues. It
was a campaign about much more than planning. It was about what we need to
do to sustain our rural communities and ensure that they can thrive and
prosper.

It was about how rural schools and other essential services remain viable
and how we can maintain the fabric of rural communities, including the proud
GAA tradition and keep families living in rural communities.

The legacy of British and unionist policy on our rural communities means
that West of the Bann, in Border area, that communities are starting from a
lower baseline. Generations of under investment in infrastructure and a
policy framework have undermined economic growth and the development of
these communities.

Nowhere is this starker than in the delivery of health services.

Centrally driven polices have undermined the long-term sustainability of
health services. An artificial border and the insanity of running two
separate health systems back-to-back have compounded these barriers.

Lack of transport infrastructure, and we huge cuts to the maintenance
budgets for the rural roads network in recent months, reinforce problems of
access.

Health is a touchstone issue. Access to health services is just as important
to people who live in rural communities as it is to people who live in the
bigger urban centres. Yet across a range of issues our rural communities,
right across Ireland, are living with a second-class service.

This is about more than what is happening with hospitals in either the 6 or
26 counties it is about the underlying approach of the two health
departments to the provision of health services in rural areas and
specifically in the Northwest, West of the Bann and in Border areas.

The leaked Trauma Report highlights the re-emergence of the 'Golden 6'
Hospital agenda in the north, an agenda replicated in the south. We still do
not have the systematic all-Ireland approach to health care that is
essential. Where there is good practice, this must be applauded and
broadened and deepened. Where there is delay, for example in regional cancer
care, this must be challenged.

This party conference brings together activists and representatives from
across Ireland to look at the many different campaign that we are involved
in, both around hospitals and around services and the drift in government
policies that is seeing rural people discriminated against, and to formulate
a collective approach on Rural Health

Just as we have committed ourselves to wider agenda on rural Ireland we need
to commit ourselves to a broad based campaign on rural health.

We need to champion an approach that moves far beyond the re-arranging of
the deckchairs approach and demands that there is a totally new approach to
rural health - an approach that can find and deliver solutions.

We need to recognise that this is more than a campaign about hospitals it is
campaign about services - a campaign about delivering sustainable services
that meet the needs of rural communities and about the rights of people
living in rural communities to be treated as first class citizens.

Health has become a major contested issue within both the 6 and 26 counties
with many communities feeling that they are losing out either in terms of
hospitals or community based services.

This is a genuine feeling of loss.

Sinn Féin believes that Ireland is to small an island to try and run two
effective and efficient health care systems.  Yet we nonetheless have to
plan to meet the needs of patients within the current situation whilst at
the same time preparing and planning for a united health care system across
the island.  We never lose sight of or take the opportunity to push forward
our all Ireland agenda.

At the heart of the campaign around Health Care in Rural Ireland are three
key principles:

1. Rights based approach to health
2. An All Ireland approach to Rural Health Care
3. Developing a Health Service that is responsive to local needs

The campaign will require a shared vision and co-ordination of activities;
the development of strategic alliances; lobbying for proper health care as
part of Bill of Rights; an assessment of best practice, looking at how other
European countries who share common borders deal with access to healthcare.

Key to the success of this campaign is the requirement to develop strategic
alliances. We need to engage with all the key stakeholders and where
possible get them to endorse our analysis that there is another way.



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