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4 May 2006 Edition

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Health policy: Alternative to two-tier system launched

Sinn Féin's Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Sinn Féin's Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

A call to action on Ireland's health crisis

Speaking at the launch of Sinn Féin's All Ireland healthcare policy on Wednesday 3 May, the party's spokesperson on Health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD rejected the "grossly unequal, unfair and inefficient two tier, public-private health system" in the 26 Counties and described the Sinn Féin's policy as a "programme for fundamental change and a call to action," saying "it is a campaigning document that we will be bringing to communities the length and breadth of this island". The central demand he argued was the "right to healthcare in an Ireland of Equals."

"With this comprehensive policy Sinn Féin is presenting the real alternative. We believe it is the most progressive health policy presented by any political party in Ireland."

Ó Caoláin went on to say: "We are calling on people not just to complain about the health services but to campaign and to demand the decent, equitable and efficient services that we need. Our healthcare workers can deliver them and our economy can well afford them."

Chairing the launch of Healthcare in an Ireland of Equals, Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald contrasted the situation in 1980, when there was 17,500 acute hospital beds available, to the present situation where there are 12,000 available. This one third cut in capacity had devastated the health system effectively eliminating the ability of hospitals to respond to an emergency and extending waiting lists. This was a result of successive governments, and especially the current one, rejecting the notion of healthcare as a public service. The current policy of privatisation was exacerbating the crisis by selling off the public health system.

McDonald went on to state that it was Sinn Féin's policy to provide a one tier health system free at the point of access and universally available. "Money is not a factor here as we are living in a booming economy. It is simply a matter of political will and the rejection of the notion of healthcare as a commodity", she said.

Latest figures show worsening crisis

Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin referred to the latest figures, from the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which showed 30,000 people on hospital waiting lists. This was a scandal and represented a significant worsening of the crisis in our health system. People were being turned away from local hospitals after being told services were unavailable and in an obscene counterpoint the Government were offering tax breaks to speculators who wanted to build private hospitals.

Ó Caoláin went on to point out that the millions wasted on tax breaks and white elephant IT programmes would already have provided 1,000 of the 3,000 beds the government's own health policy requires. He called for the immediate delivery of these 3,000 beds, a reversal of the current policy of centralisation, a new contract for consultants that would confine them to the public sector and the roll out of the promised Primary Care Centres.

Sinn Féin proposes the establishment of a Health Funding Commission to cost the implementation of the system and is demanding that all government funding be directed at the public sector from now on.

Ó Caoláin and McDonald emphasised the all Ireland dimension of the policy. This was a healthcare policy that embraced the 32 counties of Ireland they said. Giving a practical view of what was envisioned Sinn Féin North Donegal representative Padraig McLoughlin outlined how the absence of proper cancer care in the region affected people on both sides of the border. This problem could be solved by the provision of facilities on either side of the border. Access to healthcare, for people from either side of the border, to either side of the border, would solve a myriad of problems not least of which was GP access. The logic of an all Ireland strategy on health was undeniable he said.

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