From Socialist Voice, October 2009

Harney promotes profiteering from health

HSE executives are congratulating each other nowadays. Their delight has nothing to do with improved patient care or wider access to services: it has all to do with saving money, almost regardless of the consequences for the ill and needy.
     They know that their job is primarily to act as blinkered accountants and that the actual administration of health services is of secondary importance. This is clear from a perfunctory reading of HSE reports. The language used is that of accountancy, with no hint of caring for people.
     A survey conducted by the Irish Nurses’ Organisation at the beginning of October shows that more than 700 beds have been closed because of cut-backs. This doesn’t take into account about 900 other beds that are blocked by delayed discharges—another result of reduced staff and facilities.
     But the HSE can boast of “increased activity levels.” Much of the “activity” involves accident and emergency departments: attendance at A&E has increased by 31 per cent in the last two years. Everybody is agreed that many people who present themselves at A&E should be going to their GP instead; but the fact is that people without a medical card who cannot afford the €70 or so to see a doctor have no choice. Having queued for ages to be seen, people who need to be hospitalised then have to spend hours, if not nights, on trolleys awaiting beds. Those who can afford private treatment have only to walk into clinics and they are seen immediately.
     At the time of writing, the hospitals worst affected by bed closures are Merlin Park, Galway (43), Mercy, Cork (31), Portiuncula, Ballinasloe (36), St Luke’s, Kilkenny (35), Sligo General (26), Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, Dublin (25), Naas General (24), and Letterkenny General (22). Let us just hope that we can avoid the worst of a swine flu epidemic as winter sets in.
     Mary Harney must be about the most successful politician in the history of this state. When she announced her allegiance to “Boston” rather than “Berlin” it was not merely a cultural statement but a notice of intention to restructure the state as much as possible to prevent any inclination towards social democracy. In this she was at one with the EU Commission, with its continuous pressure to enforce privatisation, even in health care and other essential services.
     She asserts constantly her intention to “reform” the health service. “Reform” and “service” mean different things in Harney-speak from their usual meanings. By “reform” she means facilitating profit-making from illness. It is no wonder that she is toasted by multi-millionaire hospital-chain owners and that the word in American medical business circles is that Ireland is the place to make serious money. The continuous development of the private medical sector at the expense of the public health service is nothing short of ignoble.
     The author and health analyst Marie O’Connor pointed out recently that the HSE intends to take five thousand beds out of the hospital system over the next five years, to eliminate all non-specialist hospitals, and to funnel all A&E departments into what she calls Tesco-style hospitals. These might be two hours away from the patient. O’Connor describes privatisation as “the hidden heart” of HSE reform. “Only by cutting public hospital in-patient services, that are free of charge for the entire population, can you create the market for fee-paying services.”

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