Swine Flu, Harney & capitalism – A dangerous combination


SWINE FLU is here. A million people may become infected, with perhaps 7,000 hospital admissions this autumn and winter. In such circumstances the effects of cutbacks and inadequate bed capacity become clear.


By Mike Murphy

Public hospitals depend on trolleys. Partly because of overcrowding, rates of hospital-acquired infection here are 32 times those in Netherlands. Only the dedication of hospital staff prevents the system from collapsing. This fragile health system, deliberately denied support so as to make private hospitals profitable, is ill-equipped to cope with what lies ahead. This year may well see increased patient numbers, spread of swine flu between patients (some already at greater risk), and infection of hospital staff leading to a staffing crisis exacerbated by the recruitment moratorium.

When patients need treatment, the drug of choice is Tamiflu. With many pharmacies withdrawing from state drug schemes in response to Harney’s slashing of fees, many may have difficulty accessing it. Already complaints are pouring in about the inadequacy of the HSE’s hastily-organised alternatives.

The fact is that the Irish health system is designed so as not to have any slack; there is no spare space or staff available.

Added to the above, IBEC and co. don’t intend to drop attacks on workers just because of flu pandemic. Having established in their own minds that lazy workers are abusing sick leave, they have now announced that swine-flu related leave will require a medical cert. The Irish Medical Organisation (hardly a radical group) says this will impose huge pressure on GPs. IBEC are concerned, not about the health effects of the pandemic, but that it will be seen as a “charter to stay at home”. Far better, it seems, for GP surgeries to be overwhelmed and for sick people to come to work and spread the virus.

In a society based on human welfare, systemic problems such as these would not exist. A flu pandemic would be met by a well-organised, well-resourced, well-staffed public health system. Publicly run pharmacies would provide for the drug needs of patients. Medical activity would focus on treatment, not sick certs. A state-owned, democratically controlled health system would provide the best defence for any society. But Harney, IBEC and viruses would not like that.