Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No Private Hospitals – Fund our Public Hospitals: Health Crisis is "Deliberately Manufactured"

The most recent General Purposes meeting of Sligo Borough Council on July 19 heard proposals to build yet another private hospital in Sligo. Planning permission has been sought to develop the hospital on a site just off the N4 at the Summerhill Roundabout on the approach to the town centre.

This is the third such proposal in recent times. Last year it was announced that plans are underway to build a  €50 million private hospital right next to the existing Sligo General Hospital, while plans are also afoot to develop another such hospital at Carraroe.

Site of proposed new Private Hospital

All of this comes at a time when services at Sligo General Hospital are being slashed with further savage cutbacks already on their way.  Last year seen a dramatic reduction in services, including the removal of vital Cancer services to Galway, the downgrading of the Stroke Unit, the shutdown of wards and the closure of 78 beds.

The figures for the number of people left waiting on trolleys in Sligo General Hospital betweeen January and May of this year stood at a staggering 876.  Compared to the same period in 2007, the figure has more than doubled, up a massive increase of 419 people from 357.
As previously reported here, the Regional Director of Operations for HSE West John Hennessy confirmed in recent weeks that this year the Hospital was facing a budget deficit of €12 million and would mean new cutbacks which he admitted would impact on essential frontline services and would include yet more bed closures.  Amongst the measures he indicated were on the way were a ban on purchasing  equipment for the remainder of 2010 and the introduction of 5-day wards.

In the latest development at the hospital, staff were informed on Tuesday (July 27) that another eleven nursing positions were to go, a move that the INMO (Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation) have said will have a "devestating impact" on essential frontline services.  According to the INMO spokesperson, the proposed cuts would decimate services at the hospital.

Impact trade union have said that among the other measures to be implemented by the HSE will be a further 60 bed closures as well a significant reduction in drug stock levels.  The HSE are also planning to alter the fixed term contracts of 25 employees.  According to IMPACT, in some instances this will result in workers having their weekly hours reduced from 35 hours to as little as eight hours per week

Reacting to the HSE's plans, IMPACT's Richy Carrothers has said that among the many areas affected will be essential radiology and oncology services.   In relation to the cuts in workers hours he said that "a reduction in the number of working hours, on the scale proposed, would devastate the lives of these workers."

He added:  “Reducing working time to just eight hours per week would mean that these workers, who are engaged in delivering vital services in the North West, could not earn a living wage, and would have to join the other reported 3000 public servants whose incomes are so low that they would have to claim family income support (FIS) from the state.”

Further north at Letterkenny General Hospital, the news appears to be even worse.  It is believed that up to 120 jobs are to go as well as the closure of the hospitals orthapaedic ward and it's medical rehabilitation unit.  Day services are also set to be reduced and all elective surgery is to be cancelled for the remainder of this year.

Responding to the latest proposed cutbacks and HSE nationwide figures which reveal that around 2000 nursing and midwifery posts have been lost since the introduction of the moratorium on recruiting nurses and midwives, the INMO described the current situation as "unsafe and unworkable".  The end result of this ban on recruitment is "longer waiting times for public patients for services, overcrowded hospitals with less inpatient beds, overworked staff and increased risks to both patients and staff" according to the INMO. 

At Belmullet District Hospital in County Mayo, the recruitment ban has resulted in ten of the hospitals forty beds lying idle as they have not the staff to cater for them.

Now the Dublin government, and Mary Harney in particular, are flagging up even more savage cuts in health care in the upcoming budget.  According to Harney the budget cuts in Health will be "substantial" and have "serious consequences for the health service".  This weeks Sunday Tribune reported that those cuts are likely to be as high as €700 million.

Once again, not only will patients suffer  and indeed die from the reduction in quantity and quality of service, but Harney has also revealed that the HSE would be focusing on changes in work practices and conditions within in the health service.  If the government get their way, it is front line staff, already  dangerously overworked and overstretched due to previous cutbacks resulting in increased workloads, who will have their already inadequate and unacceptable working conditions worsen.

And we know our health service is in deep crisis, but it is a deliberately manufactured crisis, one created by deliberate political decisions taken by successive Fianna Fáil led administrations.  What we have witnessed in recent years, and this blog has repeatedly reported on, has been the systematic stripping down and removal of services from Sligo General Hospital and other hospitals around the country.

This has not been accidental or forced upon the 26 county government by forces beyond their control.  Make no mistake about it.  This is ideology driven, pure and simple.  It is part of a deliberate strategy of running down the public health care system and increasingly privatising all aspects of health care, including our hospitals.

Fianna Fáil and the Greens are using the current economic crisis, brought about by a combination of greed and corruption by the wealthy political and business elite as a smokescreen for implementing these cuts and their real agenda, which is about privatising the public healthcare system.
Despite the Dublin government's claims, there is no excuse for cutting funding and services for hospitals. The money to properly fund our health service is there, only they believe spending tens of billions on bank bailouts and up to €10 million on bringing the English Monarch here, are more important than spending on people's health - well on working people's health anyway.

At the time of last years budget, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan attempting to justify his savage cutbacks said that there was "no pot of gold that can be raided from the wealthy that can solve our difficulties”. What he said then was untrue and remains so today.  The business elite in this country, who amassed billions of euros on the backs of workers throughout the so-called 'Celtic Tiger', remain wealthy individuals.  Indeed, despite the economic recession, the richest people in this country have got even richer.

There are also hundreds of billions of euro worth of oil and gas lying under the seabed off the Irish coast, the rights to these resources shamefully given away to multi-national corporations such as Shell, by previous Fianna Fáil-led administrations.  Those natural resources could and should be nationalised at the stroke of a pen.

Yet Lenihan and his cronies in the Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition have taken deliberate political decisions not to nationalise these natural resources and not to make the rich pay.  Instead they are content to reduce the incomes of low paid workers and welfare recipients and slash essential health and education services.

So is there a solution?  Of course there is - but that solution is not in private hospitals. They have no place in the provision of health care. Private companies mean a hospitals priority is creating profit for shareholders, rather than patient care.

Private hospitals and private health care are also clearly not in the interests of working people, both those that use and need our health service and those that work within it.  Ironically the site of this new proposed private hospital is located adjacent to St Joseph's private hospital, the owners of which, the Mount Carmel Medical Group, in the past week have claimed an inability to pay redundancy in the region of €400,000 as recommended by the Labour Court to their former workers.

St Josephs Hospital

What we currently have in this state is a form of medical apartheid.  Those who can afford to pay, get their treatment when they seek it.  Those who cannot afford to pay are forced to endure lengthy waiting times for treatment that they may need right away.  The increased numbers of people waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy  (see here for previous story on Colonoscopy waiting lists) is just one example of how an essential procedure that could save a persons life is denied for lengthy periods to those who cannot afford to go private.  The end result of these delays for many people is quite often completely unnecessary suffering and death.

This two-tier apartheid system is completely unacceptable and needs to be dismantled immediately.  Health care is a basic human right - not a privilege - that must be free, easily accessable by all and must be completely under public control. Patients must be treated based on their medical need, not their ability to pay as things currently stand.

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