Health crisis: Bed closures and broken promises

By Michael Murphy Socialist Voice June 2003

Despite 10 years of unprecedented growth in the Irish economy, the health service is lurching from crisis to crisis. In a recent opinion poll 92% of people said that the government had broken their pre election promises on health. Health is now the single biggest issue of concern to working class people.

The government is trying to divert attention away from their mishandling and underfunding, pushing the lie that the health service is a "black hole" where money disappears and the service doesn't improve. There is undoubtedly a need for improvement and reform in the health service but the central issue remains that there is a serious under funding problem. This has resulted in more waiting lists, bed closures, staff shortages and ultimately people dying on trolleys in our hospitals.

In the run up to the general election last year, the outgoing coalition agreed a 13 billion euro health strategy. They weren't even six months in power when this strategy was abandoned. This was just another con to win votes and ensure re-election.

This strategy contained commitments to end waiting lists in three years. There are currently 29,000 people officially on waiting lists and over four times as many are waiting to get on the list. However this understates the number awaiting medical treatment, as it doesn't take into account those awaiting an initial appointment with a specialist or those awaiting tests. In reality you could wait many years before you are considered "waiting". There are also people who went on the list in 1997 who are still on the list.

It identified the need for 3,000 more acute beds and thousands more nursing home beds, yet only 709 beds were promised for this year, and only 520 have materialised, but 250 are being closed in the five main Dublin hospitals. What they give with one hand they take with the other.

The promised extra 200,000 medical cards have been abandoned. A person earning as little 140 euro per week is not entitled to a medical card. The average cost of a visit to a GP is 40 euro that is one third of this income. If you have to get prescription drug in a particular week, it could cost half a weeks income. If according to the government billions have been invested in the health service why is it in crisis? The reason lies in the sustained attacks on the health service by successive governments in the 1980's. Health spending was reduced to 57% of the EU per capita average by 1989. In 2001 Ireland eventually "caught up" and slightly exceeded the EU average for the first time by spending in the region of 9% of national income on health, however this has been the case in many European countries for the last 20 years. In reality, we have not caught up, you cannot replace 20 years of serious neglect with funding in one year.

The latest attempt by the government to deal with the health crisis is to go down the "privatisation" road like they are doing on many other issues. Last November when the government was effectively abandoning its funding for the health strategy they were giving the go ahead for tax breaks for the opening of a private hospital in Charlie Mc Creevey's constituency with a total of 40 beds, a paltry eight of which were public. This is just a tiny example of the agenda of the government on health. The National Treatment Purchase Fund that is championed by the PD's as their solution to the health crisis, allows public patients on the waiting list for a long time to receive treatment in private hospitals at home or abroad. This treatment is paid for by the taxpayer to these private hospitals. This money should be used for the development of a proper publicly funded health service, rather than boosting the profits of private hospitals.

The health crisis demands serious action. This government are on an offensive against working class people. As the economic crisis deepens, they will intensify this offensive with further cuts including health. There is such deep anger against this government on many issues but particularly health that if the trade union movement led any sort of campaign, they would get a huge response. At the recent nurses conference, a motion was passed calling for a one-day stoppage. This should not be an idle threat. If the health union were to issue and campaign around this call in the wider trade union movement, it would light a fire under the government.

Socialist Party says

* for a free and comprehensive health service for all

* Emergency action and investment in the public health system to end hospital waiting lists

* For clinics in all areas to provide primary medical services

* End the profiteering in health care and the drugs industry

For articles on the NHS visit the sitemap.
To see what the Socialist Party stands for visit our main site