Health care crisis

Editorial: Socialist Voice March 2002

The crisis in health care in Northern Ireland goes from bad to worse. 58,000 patients are on hospital waiting lists, the longest treatment queues in the whole of the European Union. Last year there were just over 50,000 on the waiting lists. Health Minister Bairbre de Brun then promised that she would reduce this to 48,000, a modest target by any standards. Instead of a fall there has been a rise of 7,288.

The numbers waiting for more than 12 months for cardiac surgery and for more than 18 months for other specialities has risen by 2,124. Asked about these disastrous figures, Bairbre de Brun displayed incredible complacency in stating that her target for the next year is to stop things getting worse by keeping the waiting lists as they are! The reality is that the health service needs emergency treatment, not half-hearted measures or more of the same.

There needs to be a short-term emergency plan to tackle waiting lists and adequate funding must be provided to put this into operation. And then there needs to be a long-term plan for the development of the health service to properly cater for need. Bairbre de Brun puts the whole blame for the crisis on the health cuts imposed by the Tories in the 1980s. It is true that a big part of the problem is down to the under funding caused by Maggie Thatcher's government. But people are looking to the Assembly to put the damage done by Thatcher right, not to use her as an excuse.

The reality is that the medium and longer-term plans being proposed by Bairbre de Brun do nothing to tackle the problem and will more likely make things worse. Private profiteers are milking the health service dry. Yet the Thatcherite policy of privatisation is being continued by Bairbre de Brun through the extensive use of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). There is a chronic bed shortage in hospitals.

Yet Bairbre de Brun has cut bed capacity and through the Hayes proposals is planning the closure of hospitals in rural areas. Excuses won't do. The Executive is incapable of developing the health service we need. It is now up to the communities and unions to build a mass campaign to fight for an adequately resourced and democratically run health service.

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