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17 August 2006 Edition

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Health campaign - Protests at hospitals across the state

Day of action over hospital lands

Wednesday 9 August saw Sinn Féin hold protests across the 26 Counties to oppose the gifting of public land to property developers seeking to build private hospitals.

The Sinn Féin protests took place at the 11 sites identified by the Health Services Executive (HSE): Waterford Regional Hospital, Cork University Hospital, Limerick Regional Hospital, Galway University Hospital, Sligo General Hospital, Letterkenny General Hospital, Adelaide & Meath Hospital, St. James's Hospital, Beaumont Hospital, Connolly Hospital and Our Lady's Hospital in Drogheda.

Speaking at the demonstration outside St James's Hospital in Dublin City, Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD called on the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat government to scrap the plans to allocate land at public hospital sites to the developers of private hospitals.

"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the plan by Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney to provide land at public hospital sites to developers to build private, for-profit hospitals. We are calling for all Government health spending to be devoted solely and exclusively to the public healthcare system with equal access for all. We want to see an end to the public/private two-tier apartheid system in the health services," Ó Caoláin said.

He went on: "According to the conservative estimate of the Department of Finance's Review of Tax Reliefs, published last February, €37 million had been spent up to then by the Government on tax breaks for private hospitals. This figure is growing all the time and will increase greatly with the Tánaiste's land deal scheme. Under the Tánaiste's plan developers are queuing to snap up land at public hospital sites to build private hospitals. As well as gaining access to this land, the developers will reap the existing massive tax breaks for developers of private hospitals.

Wasted money

"With the money already wasted on tax breaks on private hospitals and on the failed computer systems for the health service (PPARS and FISP), the Government could have provided over 1,000 additional public hospital beds," said Ó Caoláin.

He went on to say that the Tánaiste's plan was not based on any assessment of health needs but is driven by the profit motive of developers and would enrich the burgeoning private health industry and reinforce the two-tier system. He said it was a totally ill-conceived, unfair and inefficient use of public money and is ultimately doomed to failure from a public health point of view.

"The Government claims that the private hospitals built under this scheme will accommodate 1,000 private beds which are currently located in public hospitals, thus 'freeing up' 1,000 public beds. However, the Tánaiste has given no breakdown of how such a transfer would operate. She has given no timetable. Crucially, she has not made clear whether these beds would be part of or in addition to the 3,000 additional beds promised under the Government's own Health Strategy published in 2001," Ó Caoláin said.

US experience

"Representative bodies and individuals across the health services have challenged the Tánaiste on the viability of her scheme. An ICTU study has estimated that further tax reliefs for these private hospitals will cost €400 million.

"There are also serious concerns about the links between private hospital developers in Ireland and the US private health business, which is mired in fraud. Triad Hospitals is to run the new Beacon Hospital in South County Dublin and its subsidiary company Quorum is facing fraud charges in the United States in a case filed by the US Government in February 2006.

"Triad has also made bids to run six of the 11 private hospitals to be built on public hospital sites under the Tánaiste's privatisation scheme.

"The US experience reinforces what Sinn Féin and people across the health sector in Ireland have been saying when we deplore the massive amounts of public money being poured into the private health business by this FF/PD Government."

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