Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Resist the Health Cuts & drive to privatisation

From July 1 the Health Service Executive (HSE) are to cut the numbers of Junior Doctors in our hospitals from the current level of 4500 down to 3600, a massive drop of 900 doctors in one fell swoop. Donal Duffy of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA). has said the planned cuts will have “profound” consequences for the health service immediately and in the future”.

According to Duffy, “patients and their families will see dramatic reductions in service. The most notable impact will be in anaesthesia (with knock on consequences for surgery and obstetrics) and emergency medicine”.

Noreen Muldoon, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s (INMO) industrial relations officer in the west, also slammed the move.

She said that the health service is already in deep crisis from the ban already imposed on staff recruitment along with recent budgetary cuts. “This is coming at a very bad time” she said. “If you don’t have doctors there is going to be a reduction in services. This is a real concern to us.”

The reduction in these junior doctors posts is just the latest in a long line of cutbacks that have being imposed in recent years on the health sevice by the HSE and their political masters in Leinster House. The effect of all these cuts has had a serious effect on the provision of essential services, creating extra stress and difficulties for staff and patients alike and without any doubt leading to increased illness, unnecessary suffering and deaths.

Up to May 28, there have been 1222 beds removed from our hospitals in this state, an increase of over 300 from this time last year. Those figures do not include the planned closure of beds and theatres over the summer in order for staff to take annual leave and further cutbacks in budget. A further 1100 more beds are set be removed before the end of the year.

Below are the figures for hospitals in the Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon and Donegal region.

Aras Mahair Pol CNU, Castlerea, - 10 long stay beds for elderly closed due to non-replacement of staff

Belmullet District Hospital – 10 care of the elderly beds closed

Letterkenny General Hospital – 22 beds closed

Mayo General Hospital – 16 male surgical beds closed

Plunkett CNU, Boyle – 9 beds closed

Mayo Sacred Heart Hospital, Castlebar – 36 beds closed

Sligo General Hospital – 72 beds closed

The situation is the same wherever you look throughout the country with the Midlands regional hospital in Tullamore, Monaghan General hospital and Beaumont hospital in Dublin amongst those particularly hard hit. Tullamore has lost 86 beds and Monaghan 56 beds and a high care unit while the Beaumont's budget is being cut this year by €19 million. As a result two wards are closing, 52 beds removed and a theatre will be closed, resulting in up to 1400 people having their treatment delayed this year.

On Friday last (May 28) 284 patients in the 26-counties were left lying on trollies in hospitals because of a lack of bed spaces for them. This is not an unusually high number. The average is between 280 and 300 with it going as high as 345 on May 5.

And things are only going to deteriorate as the moratorium on recruitment and new cutbacks on their way start to be felt. As if the situation was not bad enough, in Sligo General, cuts of up to €13 million are to be made on this years budget. The INMO representative at the hospital Ann McGowan says that it will mean more people on trolleys and longer waiting lists for elective surgery.

In relation to the HSE ban on recruiting new staff, she said that it was crippling front-line staffing levels and putting massive pressure on those working in already difficult conditions within the hospital.

“Most wards” she said “are now operating with two or three nurses less than they need but the needs of patients are still the same so staff are operating under pressure all the time.” Not only is this unacceptable. It is dangerous and is putting the well being of patients at risk.

Sligo General has already lost one of its two orthapaedic wards, resulting in capacity in the single ward now reduced from 52 beds to 18 beds. Cancer services were also removed last year despite massive opposition from within the hospital and the community at large. The services have been moved to Galway University Hospital which has been unable to cope with its own patients, let alone the new influx from Sligo as it too suffers the effects of cutbacks.

Cutbacks and staff shortages are also causing major problems in the delivery of potentially life-saving cancer screening services. The breast cancer screening service BreastCheck which only was rolled out in Sligo and the north-west last year, 10 years after it commenced in other parts of the country, has seen major delays for women seeking their mammogram due to staff shortages.

Similarly, as reported previously here, recent figures from the National Purchase Treatment Fund has shown an increase in the numbers of patients waiting more than three months to recieve their colonoscopy. Such a procedure, which is the most effective way of detecting bowel cancer, should be carried out within weeks of referral by a GP according to the Irish Cancer Society. Last September there were 722 patients awaiting their colonoscopy longer than three months. That figure has risen significantly to 951.

December 09 March 2010 May 2010

Sligo General Hospital 44 74 99

Letterkenny General Hospital 25 43 56

Galway University Hospital 62 106

As already referred to above, Beaumont Hospital in Dublin has suffered severely because of the cuts and waiting lists for colonoscopies is no different. There were just 9 people waiting longer than 3 months back in December of last year. That figure increased to 66 in March and now stands at 131. For those people forced to wait months for this procedure, this is literally a matter of life and death.

Mayo General is also to suffer further cutbacks of €9 million, the closure of a male surgical ward and at least 30, and probably more, bed closures in general female and surgical wards. Our Lady's Hospital in Manorhamilton in county Leitrim has been downgraded and stripped of virtually all its services over recent years. Maternity and A&E services were stopped with orthapaedic services being transferred to Sligo, which has subsequently lost one of its wards and a reduction of 34 beds. More recently, rheumatology and endoscopy services have been removed also, leaving the future of Leitrim's only hospital in serious doubt.

In County Donegal, Letterkenny General Hospital has seen the closure of two wards in recent years including a 12-bed orthapaedic unit and cancellation of all elective surgery in the latter part of 2009. A number of community hospitals in the county, the Shiel and The Rock Hospitals in Ballyshannon as well as Lifford Community Hospital are all under threat of closure.

The removal of surgical, medical and Accident & Emergency (A&E) services at Roscommon County hospital and at Portiuncula hospital in Ballinasloe is also imminent.

All of the cuts highlighted above are just a snapshot of how our hospitals and public health service is being decimated here in the north-west, a situation replicated right throughout the state. They in no way represent the full extent of the cuts imposed – they merely give an indication of how more and more services are being downgraded and removed further and further away from the communities that depend on them.

The impact of these cutbacks has been to reduce the ability of our hospitals to give the quality care and adequate service that patients require and deserve. For front-line staff such as nurses trying to work under already extremely difficult conditions, their situation has become intolerable as they try to cope with increased workloads due to the reduced staff numbers.

The bottom line is that these cuts have caused great distress to patients and inevitably have caused lives and will increasingly do so as time goes on. The really sad thing is that these cuts are not only unjust, they are totally unneccesary. They are the result of deliberate political decisions by a government that has nothing but contempt for the well being and health of those they supposedly represent.

Fianna Fáil and the Greens are now using the current economic crisis, brought about by a combination of greed and corruption by the wealthy political and business elite and the inevitable failure of the capitalist system, as a smokescreen for implementing these cuts and their real agenda, which is about privatising the public healthcare system.

But there is no place in providing essential public services such as health care for private companies. Their priorities lie, not with the patients in need of care, but in accumulating profits for their shareholders.

The current cutbacks and the drive towards privatisation must be resisted and the current two-tier health system abolished. Health care is a basic human right that must be free, easily accessable by all and must be completely under public control. The only criteria in treating people must be their medical need, not their ability to pay as things currently stand.

While Brian Lenihan and Mary Harney on the one hand say they cannot afford to properly fund our health service, they have no hesitation in pumping tens of billions of euros to bail out the banking sector and the wealthy business elite. Indeed only yesterday it was revealed that Anglo Irish Bank were to get another €2 billion of tax-payers money on top of the billions they have already recieved.

The message is crystal clear – the profits of the banks and the rich are more important to this administration than the health of those dependent on public healthcare.

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