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Estimates process a charade

22 November, 2005

Speaking in the Dáil this evening during the debate on the Estimates, Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD described the entire Estimates process "a charade."  Addressing the Health Estimates Deputy Ó Caoláin said successive increases in expenditure had failed to keep up with Health inflation and meant the health service today is a "disaster".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "Ordinary citizens have a right to ask what these Estimates actually represent and what they will mean in practice. Once again the Government is attempting to blind people with apparently massive spending figures. The money is being spent but are the services being delivered? For many, many thousands of our people the answer is clearly 'No'.

"Just this evening people in Cavan and Monaghan learned of another blow to the health services in those Counties. The proposals from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the National Hospitals Office are an attempt to set in stone the scandalous situation that led directly to the death of Patrick Walsh because he could not be operated on in Monaghan General Hospital. They completely ignore the demand from the Cavan-Monaghan consultant surgeons in September for the resources to be provided by the Government to allow Monaghan General Hospital to go back to fully on-call status. Yet those resources are available. What is lacking is the political will. It is indicative of this Government’s flawed approach across the public services.

"The Estimates for Health show another rise after successive years of increases each insufficient to even keep pace with current healthcare inflation. Look at the disaster area that is our health service today. Despite the dedication of healthcare workers at all levels the system cannot cope. The open letter to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children from Dr. Seamus O’Reilly, consultant medical oncologist, has again exposed the reality of a fundamentally flawed health service. Promised beds have not been delivered. The promised elimination of hospital waiting lists has not happened. The rollout of breastcheck and other cancer services has not as yet taken place. Dr. O’Reilly has to serve a population of 500,000 people and states that the computer systems available to him are inadequate. As a result 10% of cancer patients under his care in the region are not recorded on the computer-generated list. Yet €195million of taxpayers’ money was squandered on the failed PPARS and FISP IT systems.

"There is another much more fundamental reason why our health system is in such a state and why public expenditure is not being used to best effect. We have a two-tier public-private health system in which an under-funded public system is subsidising a private system. And the Tánaiste wants to subsidise the private system even more. The expenditures on tax breaks for private hospitals are to be continued and lands on public hospital sites are to be gifted for the construction of private, profit-driven health facilities. The Minister claims that it would be too costly for the State to provide hundreds of additional public hospital beds as promised. But the Government does not know the cost of its tax breaks for private hospitals – tax breaks that will form the basis of this new plan.

"With this scheme the Tánaiste has also shredded what’s left of the Fianna Fáil 2002 General Election manifesto health commitments. That manifesto claimed it wanted ‘the end of the two-tier health system’. Yet the Tánaiste denies that we have a two-tier system. So here at the heart of Government, in the biggest spending Department and the most important of our public services we have a fundamental disagreement about the basis on which services are being provided.

"This Estimates process is essentially a charade. But from the figures we can discern some of the Government’s intentions.

"The increase for Child Benefit is inadequate and unless it is revised upwards between now and Budget Day, that Budget is going to be a severe disappointment for low-income families with children.

"The Taoiseach yesterday attempted to dampen expectations with regard to childcare in the forthcoming Budget. Childcare will be the litmus test of the Budget. This Government has so far failed on that score and it was the biggest omission from Budget ’06. It must not fail again. And let it be clear – we do not want a repeat of the pre-election National Health Strategy of 2001 – a bundle of promises which remain largely unfulfilled.

"We must await the Budget to see whether the Government will deliver the comprehensive Childcare package it has promised. This must include measures to increase the supply of quality childcare which is accessible to all who need it and support for those using existing childcare services." ENDS

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