Further savage cuts to Blanchardstown Hospital

The dedicated staff at all levels in Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, should be forgiven if they are in a state of some confusion and great anger this morning. As a result of a huge effort by them involving innovation, imagination, dedication and cooperation, the hospital was recently rated by the Health Services Executive as having among the highest clinical standards in the country. Furthermore it is not only reaching its service targets for 2011, but is 4% over.

This means more patients than was thought possible are being treated resulting in shorter waiting lists and less suffering for people depending on the public Health Service. But the staff were rewarded yesterday with a savage kick in the gut as the same HSE, working on government instructions to cut spending, ordered that ‘activity be curtailed’. This translates into further drastic bed closures adding to the severe closures already implemented over the summer and drastic staff restrictions.

The Hospital Executive, responding to HSE instructions, ordered that the 24 place surgical day ward be closed for two weeks from October 24. However when it reopens on November 6 it will only have 8 places to facilitate urgent day cases. This will have the drastic effect of reducing 30 to 40 procedures a day now, to 10 to 13. As well as that there will be a ‘gradual’ closure of 12 in-patient surgical beds.

This is a cruel blow to patients and would be patients from the 330,000 people who rely on the hospital in a wide catchment area that stretches from Kildare through west and northwest Dublin and on to south Meath. It is intolerable for staff who are already coping with the effects of the earlier cuts and the bungling of the HSE in filling non consultant hospital doctor positions that are vacant.

The government’s approach to the hospital has been characterised by acute cynicism. The HSE ordered hospital management to work out how much money would be saved by going from a 24 hour Accident& Emergency Service to 12 hours. Because of the extreme alarm and anger this would arouse among both staff and community, this has been shelved. Minister for Health Reilly made a great play of this when he spoke at the opening of a new Endoscopy Unit in Connolly on Monday. His words were echoed and amplified by Minister for Social Protection Burton and Minister for Transport Varadkar who are both Dáil deputies in the catchment area.

Only three days later, however, we see that the statement that ‘there are no plans to go to a 12 hour A&E’ is a cynical diversion from the savage cuts inflicted elsewhere. Can anybody say that this cynicism under a Fine Gael/Labour government differs in the slightest from the Harney/Fianna Fail regime? When the Tanaiste and Labour Leader, Gilmore, was challenged yesterday in the Dail, he denounced criticism of the latest cuts as ‘apocalyptic’.

Blanchardstown Hospital urgently needs €20 million to restore the cuts already made. Other hospitals around the country need parallel amounts proportionate to their size. The government says there will be no such funds. However on November 2, €700 million will be paid to unsecured bondholders in Anglo Irish bank and a total of €3.5 billion will be paid by the end of June. The Minister for Finance told the Dail last week that the interest on the €30billion used to bail out Anglo between now and 2031 will be €17 billion.

The Tanaiste referred to the contrasting of these stark sets of figures as ‘populist claptrap.’

Thankfully the staff of Blanchardstown Hospital and the local community are organising a major campaign to reverse the cuts to their hospital and to protect it as a vital service going into the future.

Another group of hospital workers showing great courage and leadership in defence of patient care are the nursing members of the Siptu and INMO unions at Limerick Regional Hospital. On September 21, 24 and October 4 they have staged four hour strikes in protest at intolerable cuts and threats to patient care. How serious these are was seen on the night before the last action when 37 people were waiting on trollies in the A&E.

Limerick Regional was promised 135 more beds to cater for more patients as hospitals in Ennis and Nenagh were selected for reduced services. The reductions went ahead but the extra resources never materialised.

The trade union movement as a whole should come strongly behind Health workers and plan definitive national industrial action to reverse the cuts. Health workers and communities need to begin serous mobilisations in defence of their Health Services, not just one by one but all together also. And then we need to go on to demand no more taxes for the bad gambling debts of financial speculators, put them toward the health care of our people instead.