Republican News · Thursday 03 February 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Health inequality slammed

The state of our public health service is an indictment of the values which imbue the Celtic Tiger economy, according to Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. The Cavan/Monaghan TD was speaking in support of a motion criticising waiting lists and the other serious problems in the health service. He urged the new minister, Mícheál Martin, to adopt a fresh approach.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday evening, Ó Caoláin said:

``A year ago in this Dáil I supported the motion of no confidence in the outgoing Minister for Health and Children Brian Cowen. I joined other members at that time in deploring the desperate situation in our hospitals as waiting lists grew and as patients faced delays which were damaging their health.

``If anything, the situation has deteriorated since then. Since the vote of no confidence in February 1999 we have had the nurses' strike, which was one of the gravest situations ever faced by our health service. The massive public support for the nurses was also a vote of no confidence by the people in this government's management of the health services. It was a scandal that the nurses should have had to strike at all. What greater service can any person give than to care for the ill, the elderly and the infirm?

This service deserves the fullest possible remuneration. It is grossly inequitable and a damning indictment of the values which imbue this Celtic Tiger economy that these carers had to strike for decent pay while a private individual who recently profited personally to the tune of 300 million from the sale of a telecommunications company should be almost canonised in the media.

``The failure over many years to properly remunerate the nurses is central to the grave problems now afflicting the health services - including long waiting lists, closed wards and state-of-the-art surgical facilities in some locations which cannot be used. Nurses and other health professionals have been leaving our public health system. There continues to be a disincentive to young people to enter the nursing profession, seeing as they do the inhuman working hours and pressurised conditions faced by nursing staff in our hospitals, and seeing also the attractions of employment in other sectors. While the resolution of the nurses' strike may have addressed this to a certain extent the shortage of nurses is still causing daily crises in our hospitals.

``Only last week, student nurses had to demonstrate outside Leinster House to demand the abolition of the 2,500 fee for their fourth year of nursing studies and the payment of a subsistence grant. These students are discriminated against and here we have another disincentive to young people to take up careers in nursing. I urge the new minister to address this without delay.

``A glaring example of the flawed approach to the health services by this government was the dictatorial decision of the outgoing minister to restrict the medicinal herb St. John's Wort. No account was taken of the thousands of people who use this product safely and beneficially. No account was taken of the growing herbal medicine sector. This decision can only benefit the large multinational pharmaceutical companies who seek to monopolise healthcare. Again I urge the new minister to address this issue urgently and respond to the needs and the reasonable representations of people throughout this state by reversing that decision.

``Another priority for the new minister must be the dangerous situation with regard to HIV and AIDS. As recently as Sunday the director of the HIV/AIDS support group, Cairde, stated that the Eastern Health Board, where 90% of cases occur, has no real HIV strategy. A new national strategy is promised and this must be expedited. I point to the reality that 38% of infections are caused by intravenous drug abuse and this highlights the failure of successive governments to provide proper treatment and continuing aftercare for drug abusers and to tackle the heroin problem, and the climate of social exclusion in which it thrives. Tonight, my colleague councillors here in Dublin are attending a remembrance service for the young people in this city who have perished and continue to perish every week in the heroin holocaust.

``I am glad that this motion concludes with positive proposals which I endorse and I urge the new minister to take them on board and adopt a new and positive approach which can provide our people with the health service they need and deserve.''

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