"Health spending pours money into apartheid two-tier system" -- Ó Caoláin
Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the spending announced by Health Minister Mary Harney simply maintains an inequitable and inefficient health service and does nothing to challenge the two-tier system which discriminates against public patients.
The Cavan-Monaghan TD said: "The increase in Government spending on health and personal social services to almost €15 billion next year is deceptive. The Government trumpets this huge figure, but when you get into detail about how it is spent you expose the deep crisis in our health services. Health spending is pouring money into an apartheid two-tier health system. The Government boasts of its public-private mix, but it knows that this system discriminates against public patients.
"There is no multi-annual plan and budget to provide the 3,000 additional hospital beds that we need in our public hospital system. In response to this need the Health Minister repeatedly cites her private hospital co-location plan, claiming it will free up 1,000 beds in public hospitals. But this ill-conceived privatisation plan is already unravelling with two out of ten hospitals not now proceeding. If the bed shortage in the public system is not addressed then the A&E crisis and long waiting lists for operations will continue.
"Public money will continue to be spent next year on Category Two contracts for those hospital consultants who are allowed to indulge in double-jobbing in both the private and public systems with the public patient losing out as a result. This was recognised by the Government in the 2001 Health Strategy but five years later these contracts are still in place.
"The management of health spending must also be challenged with, for example, the HSE announcing only this week that it will not reach its very modest target of training 48 paramedics in 2006 because of an alleged funding shortfall. With a massive Budget surplus and nearly €15 billion allocated to health it is incomprehensible how this could be the case.
"The increase in charges for private beds in public hospitals will lead to a rise in health insurance charges, again exposing the contradictions of a two-tier system. Many people who do not qualify for medical cards and who struggle to pay private health insurance in order to avoid long waiting times in the public system will face further difficulty. Some 70% of the population in this State pays for healthcare twice -- once through tax and PRSI and again through private insurance or user fees for GPs and hospital care. What is needed is a single system with equal access for all and funded from general taxation.
"While the funding for mental health services is welcome it is coming very late in the day and far too late for many young people who have been denied early intervention by the failure of this Government to seriously address mental health over the past five years.
"Similarly while allocations for older people, people with disabilities and victims of sexual assault and domestic violence are welcome, much more could have been done and much sooner. The Government is playing catch-up, having been exposed by people in these sectors for their neglect over many years."