Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thousands Protest Against Hospital Cuts in Letterkenny

Thousands of people took to the streets of Letterkenny in Co Donegal yesterday (Saturday Aug 7) to show their anger at Dublin Government and HSE (Health Service Executive) plans to slash services at Letterkenny General Hospital and to impose other cuts throughout the health service.

Around 3000 people assembled at the station roundabout in the town at midday for the rally which was organised by the newly formed 'Save Donegal Health Services' campaign group.  Led by a piper, the large crowd marched up the Port Road towards the Main Street before turning up High Road and proceeding to the hospital itself where a number of speakers addressed the crowd.

Amongst those who delivered speeches to those assembled were spokespeople from the three main health service Trade Unions, IMPACT, SIPTU and the INMO (Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation).  Speakers from the Voice of Older People Donegal (VOPD) and Donegal Action  for Cancer Care (DACC) also addressed the crowd.

The planned cuts for Letterkenny include a reduction in day services, the closure of an operating theatre, the removal of at least 13 beds from Orthopaedics and the Intensive Care Unit as well as the slashing of the numbers of hours being worked by almost 100 members of staff at the hospital.  They are also to close a pharmacy and shut the hospital's mortuary on a Saturday.  Similar cutbacks are planned at Sligo General Hospital and other hospitals throughout the region.

Smaller hospitals such as the Sheil Hospital in Ballyshannon and Lifford Community hospital, both in County Donegal, are threatened with imminent closure.  Now the HSE are saying that they may also close a major hospital somewhere in the west but they have refused to say which hospital they have their sights on.

Fianna Fáil and the Green party are also believed to planning even further cutbacks in the region of €600 million in the upcoming budget beyond these current plans to slash services.

Following the rally, the HSE issued a statement in which they claimed they would "protect front-line services" and that all services provided by HSE West would be provided in a "safe manner".

Sligo éirígí activist Gerry Casey, who was one of many éirígí activists from Counties Sligo and Donegal to take part in the Rally, dismissed the HSE's assertions saying that the planned cutbacks are "completely unnecessary" and will cause "unnecessary suffering and death".  He said the Dublin government are deliberately slashing services and stripping the health service bare to facilitate the privatisation of the public health service.

Speaking following the rally, Casey said:  "The savage cutbacks planned by the HSE and their political masters will decimate what remains of the public health service.  They are using the excuse of the recession, caused by their corruption and greed in the first place, to strip the public service bare and to  press ahead with the privatising of our public health service.  It is also being used to drive down workers wages and condition within the health service."

He said:  "Contrary to the lies and spin emanating from the political and business elite, all of these cutbacks are completely unnecessary.  While Brian Lenihan and Mary Harney 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.  They have no hesitation in squandering millions of euros on flying around on the government jet or to invite the English Monarch here on a state visit.  The message is clear – the profits of the banks and the rich mean more to this administration than the health and lives of those who depend  on the public health care system."    

He added:  "Despite the recession, Ireland remains a wealthy country, where the rich have got even richer while workers and those on welfare have been made to bail out the banks and developers.  A wealth tax could and should be introduced to make the rich pay. Our valuable natural resources, which should never have been given away in the first place, must be nationalised and the hundreds of billions of euros worth of oil and gas utilised to create a first class health service for all."

Casey concluded:  "If the government are allowed get away with these proposed cuts, the reality is that people who cannot afford private health care will suffer unnecessarily and even die as a result.  We should not be surprised that this administration puts private profit before the health and well being of the people they claim to govern on behalf of but we have a duty and responsibility to not let them away with it.  If we fail to stop what can only be described as the wanton vandalism and destruction of our health service then future generations will suffer greatly and needlessly."

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