26 October 2006 Edition
Health Rally - Thousands descend on Dublin city centre
Rally demands radical transformation of health system
Thousands of people descended on Dublin City centre last Saturday, 21 October for a major health rally organised by Sinn Féin.
Behind a banner declaring: Demand your Right to Healthcare, representatives of hospital action groups and local healthcare campaigners from across the country joined Sinn Féin TDs, MPs MLAs, councillors and activists on a colourful and eye-cathcing march through the city centre streets to a rally outside the GPO.
The rally, chaired by Dublin Mid West Sinn Féin general election candidate Joanne Spain was addressed by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the party's Dáil group leader and spokeperson Health, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD.
Addressing a large crowd Caoimghn Ó Caoláin said that Sinn Féin had called the Dublin rally to provide people with an opportunity to show their anger at the state of the health services and to demand real change that would deliver the best possible healthcare to all people on the basis of equality.
Ó Caoláin said that the inequalities in Irish society were evident in the state of the health service. In the two-tier public-private health system wealth could buy the best care and skip the queue while those who depend on the public system must wait in line. Ó Caoláin asked how it could it be any different with a Government whose Tánaiste Michael McDowell had said that inequality was a good thing for the Irish economy.
Ó Caoláin said that 26 County Health Minister Mary Harney had presided over the worst winter crisis in Accident and Emergency units in the history of the health system.
He said that more acute hospital beds were needed this winter to solve the A&E crisis.
"In 2001 the Fianna Fáil/PD Government said 3,000 beds were needed and they were going to provide them. They have provided only 535 extra beds since 2001 and with our growing population we now have fewer beds per head of population than we had five years ago.
"But it gets worse. We now have a situation where Mary Harney and the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Professor Brendan Drumm cannot agree on how many beds we need. Minister Harney claims they are still committed to 3,000. Professor Drumm claims we do not need them. What an indictment of a Government that promised us a world class health service! What a shambles and what a disgrace!", he said.
He said the government's solution was privatisation.
"As we speak Minister Harney and the HSE are preparing to carve up land at public hospital sites and make it available to developers of private for-profit hospitals. These developers are getting tax breaks and land so they can build exclusive private hospitals beside our public hospitals. And this is from a Government whose main party - Fianna Fáil - told the people in their 2002 General Election manifesto that they were committed to "the end of the two-tier health system". I challenged the Taoiseach in the Dáil last Wednesday on this and asked him if he wanted hospitals run by the likes of the privateer hospital providers in the USA that have had to pay out €1.7 billion to the US Justice Department to settle a raft of criminal and civil charges brought against it by the US Government. They want to do with our hospitals what they've done with Eircom and Aer Lingus. We say 'No way!' "
Ó Caoláin said successive Governments had presided over a policy of over-centralisation which saw local hospitals stripped of services.
"This policy has cost lives and continues to cost lives and Sinn Féin is committed to reversing it. We stand shoulder to shoulder with communities in Monaghan, Ennis, Roscommon, Mallow, Tralee, Nenagh, Dundalk and throughout the state who are campaigning for health services delivered as locally as possible and that includes maternity services, accident and emergency and the long-promised but not-delivered network of primary care centres. We want to see the full roll-out of cancer screening and treatment services, including radiotherapy, in all the regions. We want to see the highest standard mental health services provided. In short we want what this Government has repeatedly promised and spectacularly failed to provide - a world class health service for the people of Ireland."
Sinn Féin, he said, had a vision for change and a vision for healthcare in an Ireland of equals.
The Cavan/Monaghan TD paid tribute to people working in the health services who, he said, were providing excellent care against all the odds.
"We need to build on their work, harness their talent and commitment and unite with them and with communities to transform our health services", Ó Caoláin said.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP said the large crowd was testimony to the key importance of the issue of health.
"The state of our health service impacts on all of us. It affects babies born in poorly resourced, understaffed maternity units. It affects children and adults who queue for hours in overstretched A&E units and it affects our elderly who lie on hospital trolleys and sometimes die there. The health care and attention given to mothers can dramatically affect babies even before they are born. Unemployed women are more than twice as likely to give birth to low birth-weight babies as women in the higher income groups.
"Infant mortality rates are higher in families where the father is an unskilled manual worker. Overall people in Ireland have a lower life expectancy than the average in the rest of Europe.
"How we are treated and cared for within the health system throughout our lives, and especially when confronted by serious illness or old age, is a major worry for all but the most wealthy."
Adams drew attention to a report issued by the Institute for Public Health which said that the poorest people in Ireland were 200 times more likely to die from the main causes of death [including cancer, respiratory diseases and accidents], than the richest people in society.
"Another report concluded that death rates in Ireland are higher than average when compared with 19 other countries of similar development and wealth. There is hardly a day goes pass without some major controversy or exposure of failure within our health system."
He said that whether it was in the provision of and access to cancer treatments; the availability of screening services and maternity services; or the state of our Accident and Emergency Units and the number of people languishing on hospital trolleys, the issue of health care is a major issue for everyone.
"The fact is that society in this state is more unequal than it was 15 years ago at the beginning of this period of economic growth. Most people are better paid, but they are working longer hours and commuting long distances because they cannot afford to live near their place of work. They are struggling to keep up with spiralling costs in housing, education, childcare and basic services like ESB.
"There are also - to the Irish government's great shame - tens of thousands living in poverty. At a time of unprecedented growth, 15% of all children live in consistent poverty, while one in four children are deemed by the government's own statistics to be at risk of poverty.
"And this after nine years of successive budget surpluses."
With predictions that the government will have a surplus of €1.8 billion this year and another €1.3 billion over the following two years, Adams said that a government committed to a decent health system could make effective use of such resources.
"What has this government and their predecessors done? They have cut the number of acute hospital beds to one third less than it was in 1980, from 17,500 to 12,000. Yet the demand today is far greater.
"Successive Irish governments, and especially the current coalition, have rejected the principle of health as a public service.
"They have pursued a policy of privatisation and the creation of a two tier health system. Public money, taxpayers money, your money is given away by this government to their friends in the private health sector."
He said that Sinn Féin was committed to ending the two tier health service and to the delivery of a public health system accessible to all on the basis of need.
"That's what people work and pay taxes for. No one should have to languish on a hospital trolley in a corridor. Not in 2006, in the era of the Celtic Tiger. No one should be on a waiting list for years. Every citizen should have access to the same standard of care. What is missing is the political will to achieve this. The fact is the money and resources are available to provide a first class health service for everyone.
Adams said the government should take it's lead from the 1916 Proclamation which promotes equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens.
"The Proclamation is a declaration of social and economic intent for a rights based society in which the people are sovereign. And it set a standard for the future care of citizens, "to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally."
"Government policy is totally at odds with this. Government policy is based on the notion that inequality is good for society.
"For our part we believe that healthcare is a right, not a burden. We believe that health spending should go into public services not private health care. We believe that tax breaks to developers of private hospitals should end. We believe that subsidies to private healthcare should stop immediately. Sinn Féin would make this a priority in government.
"The health system we have reflects the government's agenda for inequality. This agenda is just as clear in their bad policies on education, rural regeneration, workers' rights and many other issues.
"The debate about our health services is really part of a wider debate about the kind of Ireland we want. Right now the wealth of Ireland is not being used to benefit of the people of Ireland. We have to change that. We have to put equality at the heart of government policy.
"Ireland is in transition North and South. We are moving slowly but surely from a partitioned island to a new agreed Ireland. There are many challenges facing republicans in the time ahead. But we need change in the here and now not just in the North but across the island. What price freedom if we have a Thatcherite Ireland? Republicanism is about citizens. It's about rights. Healthcare is fundamental to the wellbeing of our people and our society. Today's rally is part of an all-Ireland campaign to demand and win a radical transformation of the health system. Working together we can deliver a public health system that works for all the people. We will accept nothing less."