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CYC-Online Issue 53 JUNE 2003 / BACK
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Irish Health Service in state of malaise

Niall McElwee

Well, summer is upon us and the weather is finally changing. Students have just completed their end-of-year exams and the College is quickly becoming a quiet environment. I have been taking a break from correcting Theses and decided to try to catch up on a week’s reading of the newspapers. The news is not good as the papers abound with stories of cutbacks, cutbacks and more cutbacks. This might be unsurprising to the reader and I know that Child and Youth Care People in BC, Canada have been writing of such happenings in their system for over a year now. But, it is the severity and pace of cutbacks that have taken us by surprise.

For the last few years many international visitors have come to Ireland to work in our social care, social work and health services, but all that is about to change. A recent rule has been enacted barring non-nationals from working in certain areas because of our recent growing unemployment and, unfortunately, social care is one of the professions nominated.

What is the state of social care in Ireland at the moment? The landscape has altered dramatically over the past six months with a crisis in public spending which caught the Irish public and all social care and health professionals with a sucker punch. We are shocked, dismayed, angry, resigned and bewildered. How could the government have got is so wrong? Where have all the public monies gone? On what have they been spent? Although there appears to be no monies for social care projects, mental health services and school buildings, the government has been able to allocate millions for a new government jet. God bless them, it’s terrible not to be in a position to keep up with our European neighbours.

A read through just one week of our paper of record, The Irish Times, tells a sorry story.

How do the maths work out? Well, the present government insists that it has increased the health service staffing by 30,000 people since 1997 and yet the health sector has been decimated, with beds routinely being removed and entire wards closing down as funding runs out. Hospital managers are being blamed by their staff, the managers are blaming government departments and the patients continue to lie on trolleys in corridors up and down this State with no privacy and little adequate care. Significant numbers of nurses are opting out of the health service, or radically reducing their hours. In an interesting parallel with social care, the recently introduced changeover from Diploma to Degree status in 2002 has meant that there will be no graduates to the profession in three years time. One area identified by nurse unions that is being badly hit is that of care of older people. It seems the young and old are always last to benefit and first to feel the brunt of any “revenue adjustments".

Our Public Health Doctors have been out on strike for the past seven weeks and very few people seem to know what their strike issues are. Interestingly, 80% of these Doctors are female. Could this be a contributing reason to their lack of status and securement of full Consultant posts. Women, infants and the elderly are discriminated against time and time again.

Let me provide another example of our current malaise. One of the health board areas (North Eastern) has stated that its allocation from the Department for all services to asylum-seekers was 200,000 Euros last year, but it needs 1.3 million this year to maintain services. The maths don’t work. When one considers that babies born to non-nationals here in Ireland are at higher risk of being premature and of low birth-weight compared to Irish nationals the problems of non-access to health and medicine are compounded for our visitors.

The National Maternity Hospital has labelled as “a matter of extreme concern" its lack of funding. It has been responsible for delivering some 8162 babies last year with 263 mothers having their babies delivered in the community under the hospital’s home-birth support scheme. This places, literally, thousands of mothers and infants at risk if key services are not in place. Indeed, there was a high-profile case last year where a young expectant Mom died in transit between hospitals in another region.

I’d like to give a final example. There are a reported 21,000 children waiting for dental treatment on the public waiting lists and waiting times can be up to three years.

Now, do we cherish our infants, children and youth in this country? I leave you to make up your own minds on this one. In the meantime, our politicians will soon be heading off on their summer vacations. Oh, surprisingly, they also awarded themselves a pay increase in this time of “revenue adjustment"–

Be well (but in your own systems!)

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