A new organisation formed to fight the health cuts is urging people to sign a petition to register their concern.
The “Galway Says No to Health Cuts” group, which held its first campaign meeting in the city last night (Wednesday ), will be seeking signatures on Saturdays on Shop Street.
“We took our petition to the streets last Saturday and got hundreds of signatures,” says Dette McLoughlin, one of the founders of the group.
“We plan to continue this and are appealing to the public to support us. We hope this will spark a bigger, more united campaign. Everyone is concerned about the health service and people have great ideas. What we are trying to do is get people to come together, get a cross section working together. We want our petition to become city-wide, we know it may not change anything but it will highlight our cause and mobilise public opinion. We can’t leave saving the health service to hospital staff, it’s our service, too.”
She says feelings were running high even before the economic downturn.
“People were concerned then about waiting lists, the two-tier system, etc. Now, there are further worries. When there were talks of cutbacks at Merlin Park Hospital the consultants voiced their concern. They don’t do this often. A lady in her eighties who had had a mild stroke attended the demonstration outside Merlin Park Hospital a month ago. She was a patient at the hospital and walked down to the gates to take part.”
Ms McLoughlin, who has been sick for the last five years and describes herself as a “constant outpatient” is frightened about further cuts to the public health service.
“People don’t want any more cuts. Everybody is angry about what’s being done with the country’s money - the billions going to Anglo Irish and NAMA, the tax loopholes and incentives for the very rich. There is money there, we don’t have to be fighting for crumbs. The health service should not be touched. It is very hard to find a service more vital than health. Some 32,000 people have taken part in protests over the cuts all over the country in the past six months. That shows the level of concern out there.”
Meanwhile a new campaign to save public health services was launched by local trade unions, IMPACT, Siptu and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation on Tuesday outside the nurses’ home at University Hospital Galway. Workers bearing placards and chanting SOS, Save our Services, took part in a 30 minute demonstration, the latest in a series of events highlighting concern over health cuts, outside the facility.
Local IMPACT official Padraig Mulligan said the SOS campaign would work with the community to resist HSE plans to cut €24 million from the hospital’s budget and more than €18 million from community services in the area.
“It is important for us to stand strong and put on a determined and impressive show of strength in support of our health services,” he said. “The planned cuts would result in the decimation of our services, jobs and the local economy. We are going to demand that local politicians make a practical stand in defence of Galway’s public health services and the community that depends on them.”
Paul Hardy, SIPTU health services organiser locally, urged the public to get behind the campaign to fight the cuts as the health authority and trade unions work out a range of cost-saving measures aimed at addressing a €90 million budget overspend by 2011. Both sides have until the end of the month to agree measures.
Harnessing people power is one of the keys to defending the local health service which is under threat from HSE cuts, he said.
“We need ordinary people to get in touch with politicians to express their concern. We need those people to be prepared to march with staff and to get active to get the HSE West and the Minister for Health to make the right decisions for Galway.
“Our number one priority is the protection of jobs. We’ve agreed to go through line by line everywhere they [the HSE] can save cash without affecting pay. This is going to be difficult and some uncomfortable proposals can be expected.
“The spirit with which we are going into talks is to try to find agreement, we intend to try and hope the other side will too. I hope this is a period in which we can find middle ground that’s acceptable.”
He welcomed Independent Deputy Noel Grealish’s recent announcement that he will withdraw his support for the Government if further cuts to frontline health services in the west go ahead.
“We welcome the strong line taken by Deputy Grealish. To be fair to deputies Michael D Higgins and Padraic McCormack, they also spoke out. We need to hear more from the Government TDs and Senator Niall O’Brolchain about what they think. It is important for the public to get involved too. It’s their health service, they need to be contacting their TDs and senators and making their voices known.”
The chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum Cllr Padraig Conneely held what he termed a “tough” face-to-face meeting with the organisation’s regional director of operations John Hennessy yesterday (Wednesday ).
While further details were not available at the time of going to press the city councillor and former mayor said earlier that he was “seriously concerned” by the recent proposed cutbacks at UHG and Merlin Park Hospital and their likely effects on frontline services.
“Proposed cuts and staff reductions will impact on patient care and safety,” he warned. “Any downgrading of hospital services at UHG and Merlin Park Hospital must be vigorously opposed.”