By Michael Murphy
THE DESTRUCTION of our health service by the government continues apace. Having completely failed to establish a proper functioning and accessible health service during the boom years the government are pursuing their agenda of cut backs and service closures across the country.
While there was an increase in health funding during these years the reality is that the cuts of the 1980s have never been undone. The 3,000 beds that were cut then haven’t been replaced and health funding only ever reached 90% of the EU average.
Clearly now in the midst of the worst recession in Irish history things will get worse. The recent budget saw a raft of cuts including €20 million cut from the capital budget and €40 million from services that are already under pressure. However the HSE are currently looking for another €147 million in cuts. This will inevitably, and may have already, led to ward closures in hospitals around the country. It is likely that in the next budget there will be significant cuts in services as money from the government dries up.
Already many communities are suffering devastating closures of critical services in their communities, as the government and HSE management led by Brendan Drumm continue to downgrade many local public hospitals around the country. Apparently they are unnecessary and outdated for a modern health service and we need more centralised care, yet Mary Harney and this government continue to actively support the opening of small private hospitals – many in areas where public hospitals are being closed.
Monaghan hospital is due to go off call on 31 May. This means that the hospital will lose all acute care and will be serviced at night simply by two nurses and two carers. Emergencies will be sent to Cavan or Drogheda.
In Ennis thousands took to the streets in February as part of an ongoing campaign by local residents to protest at the plans to downgrade Ennis General Hospital. This campaign has been vindicated tragically by the recent death of Dan McDonnell, who died a short distance from Limerick hospital despite being driven past Ennis General on the way to Limerick. This highlights a key point campaigners have been raising – that shutting local services and thereby forcing people to travel longer distances will put lives at risk.
The inaction of the trade union leaders has let down the heroic campaigns led by people in Monaghan, Ennis, Nenagh and other areas against the downgrading and cuts in local services.
The decision of the nurses to ballot for strike action against cuts in their pay and cutbacks in the health service is significant. If passed it must be acted upon to stop this government in their tracks. A co-ordinated national campaign led by the trade unions involving medical, nursing and ancillary staff in all hospitals and the local communities could force this government back and be the first step in a campaign to build a real public health service.