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8 February 2007 Edition

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Health crisis requires radical response

The year 2007 is just six weeks old and already it is clear that it is going to be one of the worst years yet for the health services in the 26 Counties.

Members of the Irish Nurses’ Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association have voted for industrial action which will take place unless the Fianna Fáil/PD government changes its stone-walling attitude to the nurses’ just demand for a 35-hour week and the resolution of serious pay anomalies.

The IMPACT trade union, which represents thousands of workers in the health services, has also threatened industrial action because of the treatment of its members. They have highlighted the government’s ceiling on recruitment and its obsession with privatisation.

In contrast to the government’s attitude to nurses and other workers in the health services is the kid-glove treatment given to the elite hospital consultants for years. Only now has Health Minister Mary Harney started to talk tough. But as far back as 2001 the government promised that it would renegotiate the contract with hospital consultants to ensure greater equity for public hospital patients. A privileged group of hospital consultants is still allowed to draw massive salaries from the public purse while spending much of their time treating private patients in private for-profit hospitals and clinics. Guess who gets more time and better treatment? And the consultants have delayed negotiations for over five years in order to defend this indefensible contract.

Minister Harney now claims to be standing up to the consultants. But she has totally undermined the government’s position because while she ‘talks tough’ about the consultants’ private work, she is driving forward with her disgraceful plan to allocate land at public hospitals to the developers of private for-profit hospitals. In reply to a Dáil question from Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Mary Harney said tendering for these hospitals will begin in March. If this goes ahead the State will be tied into legal contracts and this privatisation plan will be implemented with no mandate and within weeks of a general election.

The damage being done by privatisation was seen when the HSE admitted that the provision of radiotherapy facilities for cancer treatment is being delayed because the government is using public-private partnerships to build these facilities. The coalition’s right-wing ideology is costing the lives of cancer patients.

People are now afraid to go to hospital because MRSA is endemic and the government and HSE responses have been totally inadequate.

The health crisis requires a radical response. The public health system must be defended against privatisation. The two-tier system must be challenged. We need an all-Ireland health service that treats everyone equally and that is provided free at the point of delivery to all who need it. There is widespread support for this demand and the task now is to mobilise for health rights across the health services and across the country.

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