June 2013        

Anger at dissolution of the health service

In recent conversations with former nurses I could sense the frustration at their successors’ use of professional skills as a route towards personal advancement at the expense of the ethos of the community.
     It is not solely the preserve of the nursing cadre. Sadly, the illusions surrounding the Hippocratic oath have created a myth of “doing no harm.” It is hard to square this with the real picture of consultants pushing patients into private clinics of which they are shareholders.
     The same consultants, in cahoots with hospital bed managers, are responsible for managing the queue for public beds. Needless to say, when one patient from a private facility is in competition with a public patient for a public bed there is only one inevitable conclusion.
     Mary Harney, now barely remembered except as a sad old crock who “meant well,” will no doubt be fully assessed for the damage inflicted by her Thatcherite mates and backers and her championing of an anti-social neo-liberal ideology. After all, she didn’t fall from the sky!
     All she had to do is do nothing, and the privatisers and merchants of greed in the medical profession were allowed the time, space and opportunities to build a new laissez-faire system at the expense of increasing misery for the mass of the people.
     Our “world-class health system” is, sadly, a very sick joke!
     Disillusioned nurses found themselves taking early retirement as they experienced the break-up of teams and structures to which they once belonged. One nurse told me: “There’s no reward for loyalty. They’re upstairs busy with giving themselves promotion like pigs at a trough. Meanwhile we on the front line get shafted.”
     The latest wheeze for saving money for the HSE is hilarious. It concerns the discharging of patients from hospitals. Patients are told they can go and then finish their course of antibiotics at home. And, despite their weakened condition, they are told they are responsible for making their own way home.
     Sick citizens are asked if they can arrange for a member of the family, neighbour or friend to come and pick them up. They are made guilty at their failure to cough up a contact for some young nurse unskilled in human relations and lacking in social graces. These are not qualities treasured by the new HSE. They don’t fit in with the politics of “austerity.”
     There is plenty of anecdotal evidence from excellent sources. An activist with the Irish Kidney Association told me of a new transplant patient who was forced to make her own way to Cork from a “centre of excellence” in Dublin.
     My wife witnessed an elderly woman trying to make her way from a Dublin hospital to Co. Donegal. She helped her to a bus to town, from where she carried her bag to Busáras. She left her on a seat waiting on a bus for Letterkenny, from where she hoped a neighbour could pick her up for the last leg home.
     When I questioned a hospital official about their duty of care, she had a simple but revealing explanation. She just denied that it existed. She said that when a patient is discharged the care ends. “Nothing is written into law, so it cannot be challenged in law,” was the response. The person I once respected for patient care had metamorphosed into a HSE clone. So much for Christian, let alone socialist, values! The argument was based on current needs and the cost to the hospital of patients’ transport.
     From the recesses of history comes the statement by the Cumann na nGael TD Patrick McGilligan in 1924: “There are certain limited funds at our disposal,” he said. “People may have to die in this country, and may have to die through starvation.”
     Of course recent deaths in acute hospitals have nothing to do with starvation but have much to do with limiting funds.
     There was no mention of the money wasted on paying the odious debt . . . of bailing out the rich . . . and making sure the idle classes are protected. No mention of a class war. We are back to the Blueshirt policy that sees the steady immiseration and isolation of the poor as an acceptable price for their politics of greed. And it dovetails with the modernised policy of neo-liberalism.
     To this element, society no longer exists. Thatcher is dead and Harney departed, and the politics of austerity are being questioned; but the policy lives on in the doings of Reilly, Kenny, Noonan, Hogan, Gilmore, Howlin, Quinn, Burton, and Co.
     It is not surprising that the most radicalised of the young nurses are now emigrating to England, Canada, or Australia. Sadly, many of those left behind are naïve young students who swallow the yarns spun for them by the HSE. Careers beckon in a newer, more liberal “reformed” health service.
     Nursing union leaders like Liam Doran spoof on about their resistance and fight-back. Their days of historic compromise and comhoibriú le chéile mean nothing except placid acceptance of neo-liberalism. Finding themselves a comfortable niche is an important bonus.
     All of this should not lead us to despair. There is growing awareness of the need to end this rotten system of theft and corruption. Anger is growing among important sections of the working class. Young activists fed up with the posturing of the ultra-leftist cliques and veteran “socialists” can join with socialist republicans who have learnt from the betrayals of the past to create a new dynamic under principled communist leadership.
     The renewal of the CPI and its re-emergence as the leading force for people’s resistance is timely. Discipline, education, organisation and agitation were all part of Connolly’s textbook for revolution. They remain ours today.

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