September 2011        

The elderly suffer as more nursing care is privatised

With the decline in investment opportunities for capitalists in manufacturing in Ireland in recent decades we have seen a vast shift to the provision of services, both state-run services and “financials.” No more did the capitalist invest in the making of ice cream or underpants but sought to profit from “service industry.”
     Most often this amounted to private capital casting its greedy eye on existing services and campaigning to get the state to allow them to provide such services in the name of savings, choice, and greater efficiencies. State services would be privatised, and social protection and the promise of a “social Europe” from the EU would prove to be an illusion.
     This privatisation would be written into law through mechanisms such as the Lisbon Treaty, GATT, and the prescriptions of the ECB and IMF. The process was helped as successive Governments spurned the popular will, as in the case of its rejection of the result of the first Lisbon referendum and the failure to consult the people in any way when bailing out the speculative debts of the banks and other institutional gamblers.
     The assets of the people were fair game for capitalists as the provision of state services came up for grabs by gombeen-men diversifying their portfolio from pubs, clubs, and huckster shops. Later they were joined by the big boys from the property world—noted for their touchy-feely side as they drove their workers, lash in hand, GAMA-like, to bigger and greater things. And one of the first areas to be hit was health provision.
     For-profit health is slowly becoming the norm. Perhaps the most callous aspect of this is the privatisation of old age. From being in the care of a state-run home with the emphasis on care with dignity and comfort as a basic human right, elderly patients are placed, often without any advocate, in institutions where the primary emphasis is on returning maximum profit for the owner or investor, with human rights often treated as an afterthought.
     This has led to appalling consequences for many defenceless patients who, lacking any advocate or other protection, are increasingly at the mercy of the system of profit. There already exists evidence of the mistreatment of patients, ranging from tying up patients with dementia to beating patients who soil themselves.
     The case of Leas Cross has been well documented. The report into that scandal of neglect and into the deaths of 105 elderly patients resident there between 2002 and 2005, of patients left with untreated infected wounds and the use of physical restraints, found that “systems failure” was responsible. No one person was ever held responsible. A report by Professor Des O’Neill, reviewing deaths at the home between 2002 and 2005, found that care was deficient, and it was consistent with a finding of institutional abuse.
     In the aftermath of some such abuse one would have expected the proponents of for-profit nursing homes to remain quiet. And quiet they were . . . for a time. But such is the insidious nature of capitalism that its never-ending greed and quest for profit drives it, tooth and claw, to accumulate just a little more.
     Now we hear the collective voice of the country’s 447 nursing homes screech about the difficulty in recruiting nurses and in paying the cost of new nursing-home standards. The hint of subsidies is never far away. It’s all about cutting these and other costs. No mention of a cut in the rate of profit.

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