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Health inequality being paid for with the lives of our people - Ó Caoláin

26 October, 2006

Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said the cost of health inequality, avoidable illness and sub-standard care is being paid by the lives of our people. Supporting a Labour Party private members motion in the Dáil this evening, on privatisation within the health service, Deputy Ó Caoláin pointed to inconsistencies in Fine Gael's health policy and described as curious the fact that Fine Gael deputies did not co-sign the Labour motion which has been the practice lately.

He said, "On behalf of Sinn Féin I support the motion in the name of the Labour members.

"The privatisation of our hospital services by this Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government is something we in Sinn Féin have been campaigning strongly against for months. On Saturday last we organised a major rally in Dublin demanding Healthcare Rights for All. One of the main themes was our opposition to Minister Harney's outrageous plan to allocate land at public hospital sites, as well as massive tax breaks, to the developers of private for-profit hospitals. On 9 August we held protests at most of the 10 sites nominated for this co-location plan.

"Today a new private hospital, subsidised by the Government with tax breaks, was opened in Sandyford in Dublin. This is run by Beacon, part of the Beacon/Triad group with a massive parent healthcare company in the United States. That parent company has had to pay $1.7 billion to the US Justice Department arising out of civil and criminal cases against it. These same privateers are among the bidders to develop private hospitals on six of Minister Harney's ten sites. All the Minister and the Taoiseach can do when they are asked about this here in the Dáil is to parrot the company's denial. But the facts are there and I believe they will come back to haunt this Government. More importantly, if this plan is persisted with, the privateers will further damage our ailing health services.

"On the same day this new Beacon Hospital opened we learned that planning permission has been granted for a luxury new private hospital in the grounds of Adare Manor in County Limerick. We are told it will be set in rolling parkland with 100 private rooms, each with flat screen television and internet access. It will have six operating theatres, two radiology suites and 30 consultant suites. An Irish-American businessman and BMI Healthcare, a leading private hospital company in Britain, will operate it. These developers have also put in bids for the co-located private hospital in the grounds of Limerick Regional Hospital.

"Are the members of the Fianna Fáil party opposite happy that the two-tier system of hospital care in this State is now being reinforced by their PD Minister for Health? The Fianna Fáil election manifesto on which they sought their mandate in 2002 pledged to end the two-tier system. Are they happy with a situation where older people who have worked all their lives and are in poor circumstances in their twilight years must endure the indignities and dangers of our public hospital A&E units and wards while the privileged few can book into luxury hospitals with televisions and computers in every room? Is that the legacy of a party that calls itself Republican? Shame on you for allowing such apartheid in the Irish health system.

"The Labour Party motion is worthy of support. But it is curious that the Fine Gael deputies did not co-sign the motion as has been the practice lately. Today on the News at One on RTÉ Radio Fine Gael Health spokesperson Deputy Liam Twomey avoided the question of whether he, in Government, would stop or reverse Minister Harney's private hospital co-location scheme. He was careful in his speech last night to repeatedly express his support for private medicine. He should listen more carefully to Dr. John Barton of Portiuncula Hospital, one of the strongest critics of privatisation in our health services and a would-be party colleague of Dr. Twomey here in the Dáil.

"Dr. Twomey said he supported the motion. If so he must oppose the use of tax incentives to promote the development of private super-clinics, as the motion says. Is that Fine Gael policy? Another Fine Gael deputy has welcomed the luxury Adare Hospital which is subsidised by tax incentives. Again, what is Fine Gael policy and what will be the policy of a Fine Gael/Labour-led administration if one is ever formed? Will they end the tax breaks for private hospitals?

"Let it be said loud and clear that a world class health service cannot be provided while the public purse is subsidising both public and private healthcare. The private system will always win out. It will be world class alright - for the privileged few. But the rest will have to struggle with a second-class service.

"The Minister and the Government try to promote the fiction that we have a mixed system which works well. They pretend that the only difference between private and public hospital care is the way they are funded. That is a gross falsehood and they know it. Anyone who has been treated in a private hospital under the Treatment Purchase Fund knows it. Money talks and money pays for an upgraded service. Successive governments have presided over a contract for hospital consultants which encourages them to work in the private system and neglect their public hospital work. That contract was supposed to be renegotiated five years ago. We are still waiting.

"Sinn Féin is unashamedly for a universal publicly provided health service with access for all equally based on need alone. The question is not can we afford it. The question is can we afford not to provide healthcare in that way because the cost of health inequality, avoidable illness and sub-standard care is paid in the lives of our people who demand and deserve better." ENDS

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