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19 October 2006 Edition

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Health Crisis - Private labs make millions testing blood for public hospitals

Blood testing scandal exposed

When it came to the attention of Meath Sinn Féin Councillor Joe Reilly that the Pathology Department of Our Lady's Hospital Navan was outsourcing blood-testing work to private companies, he put a question to the Health Services Executive asking about the costs involved.

O'Reilly was outraged to discover that the blood testing service, previously conducted within the hospital, was now costing €18,000 a week, amounting to almost €1 million a year.

" I was shocked to discover that private laboratories are making millions testing blood for public hospitals," Sinn Féin's Meath West general election candidate said.

The same problem exists at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda, where approximately €75,000 per week is paid out to a private company to conduct blood tests. And this is just to cover one of the three departments in the hospital dealing with blood sampling.

Commenting on the issue, Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said: "These private laboratories are leeching millions from the Irish people. The total bill for testing blood samples for the whole state must run into a staggering figure of millions."

Joe Reilly says that "an additional four members of hospital staff - two technicians in Navan hospital and one technician and a laboratory manager in Drogheda hospital - would save up to €2m a year and make for a far more efficient service.

"I am appalled that the HSE is refusing to hire the two or three additional technicians that would be required but is instead happy to put well over a million euro per annum into the pockets of private health companies."

General Practitioners in Meath have confirmed that the new privatised service is completely inadequate, with a reduction in the frequency of blood sample collections, and have complained to the HSE.

Dr Niall Maguire, Secretary of the Meath Faculty of the Irish College of GPs, has spoken of "the wasteful outsourcing of laboratory work," both in terms of its financial inefficiency and its interference with "the standard operating procedures within practices for managing tests, particularly abnormal test results."

Maguire says that the change to outsourcing has aggravated the already-heavy burden of responsibility on GPs, especially with respect to patients with chronic diseases such as epilepsy, heart disease and diabetes.

Sinn Féin TD and Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has put a Dáil question to the Minister for Health and Children to ascertain the extent and geographical spread of this problem.

Joe Reilly says that the issue is further evidence of a government "fanatically and blindly committed to a failed privatisation ideology that is more expensive and inefficient compared to the public health sector. I am calling on the Minister and the HSE to hire new staff immediately so that a better service can be delivered at less cost to the taxpayer."

He is encouraging everyone to attend the major Sinn Féin Health Rally in Dublin on 21 October. Outlining the success of the party's health campaign locally, he encouraged Meath people to "take personal ownership of this issue, to demand their healthcare rights and ensure that there is no further depletion of services at Navan Hospital.

"Over the last 10 months alone, we have seen the scandal of the HSE outsourcing blood testing, previously carried out at Navan hospital, at a cost of €18,000 a week; the temporary closure of the orthopaedic unit; a reduction in the hospital's budget and a reduction in the number of interns assigned to surgery services within the hospital.

"In opposition to this trend, thousands of Meath people have signed the Support Navan Hospital petition. On the doorsteps and on the streets the vast majority have voiced strong support for the hospital and its staff.

"It's important that the people of Meath send a strong message to the Fianna Fáil/PD coalition. A big turnout on 21 October will demonstrate the widespread dissatisfaction there is with the poor state of our health service, and show strong support for our hospital."

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