Ireland: 200 people attend Dublin public meeting to discuss national health crisis

Scandal of long waiting lists causing unnecessary deaths

Approximately 200 people packed into Wynns Hotel, Dublin, on 29 January, to attend a meeting hosted by the Socialist Party on the issue of the health crisis in Ireland.

The meeting was organised to discuss the health crisis and to raise the demand for “a public health service for all”. The meeting was addressed by two hospital consultants, Professor John Crown and Dr. Orla Hardiman, a nurse, Triona Murphy, and by former Socialist Party TD [member of Irish parliament] Joe Higgins. Professor Crown has won a very high profile in the media over the last year for making significant public criticisms about the neo–liberal agenda of the government for the health service. All the platform speakers graphically outlined the real crisis facing patients and workers in the health service. Many other health workers and representatives of campaigns spoke form the floor.

Ireland in 2007 was dominated by the crisis in the Irish health service. However there is much confusion over the cause of the problems and how they can be resolved. Despite a booming economy over the last ten years, health spending in Ireland is only about 90% of the EU average. The health service in Ireland was decimated in the 1980’s, with 6,000 beds lost and which have not been replaced, despite the economic boom. In that period the population of the country has increased by 25%.

The other problem with the service is the hybrid nature of health care in Ireland. There is not a National Health Service, as in Britain: health in Ireland is funded by taxation but if you can afford private health insurance you can gain quicker access and receive better treatment than those who do not have health insurance – health is based not on need but ability to pay.

Susie Long tragedy

The death of a woman last year, Susie Long, exposed the health crisis. Susie Long died of cancer aged 40. She was referred by her doctor for a scan. She sat on a waiting list for seven months before she received the scan which revealed that the cancer had spread to her lungs, Susie died eight months later. If Susie had private health insurance she would have been seen quicker and would, in all probability, be alive today. This is the reality that has forced 52% of all Irish people to take out private health insurance.

The Dublin public meeting agreed to establish a broad campaign, beginning with a national meeting in March or April, to bring together all the groups campaigning against hospital closures and cutbacks. The health trade unions also have a crucial role to play in this campaign. If the government’s agenda of privatisation and cutbacks is to be halted, it will take a mass campaign of people power. This successful meeting clearly reflected the anger felt by people about the appalling state of health care in Ireland and there was agreement that the way to resolve the crisis is for a free public health service based on need, not ability to pay. The meeting was an important first step in the establishment of this campaign.

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January 2008