A local union boss is urging people to take to the streets and protest over the forthcoming health cuts before the axe falls on the service.
SIPTU health services organiser Paul Hardy says while 220 at risk jobs have been saved at Galway University Hospitals [Merlin Park and University Hospital Galway] there are major cuts down the line as the HSE examines ways of cutting costs to address a €91 million budget deficit by the end of the year.
The closure of 12 health centres and the scaling down of elective surgery from seven days to five in three wards — two at UHG and one at Merlin Park Hospital — are believed to be among the health authority’s cost cutting proposals. Some sources say hip replacement operations will no longer be carried out at Merlin Park Hospital.
Mr Hardy says while savings have been identified as a result of negotiations between trade unions and the HSE there is “no way” they can come up with a method of clawing back €91m.
“We have done reasonable business with the HSE on saving costs. However, the Government needs to come up with more cash. People need to join forces and demand this. Our job is to defend our members’ jobs and also act as advocates for the citizens of the health service. There is talk of marches, we need to show TDs that basically no services mean no votes.
“There is often criticism of parish pump politics, I even see the failure of that potentially. Mssrs Ó Cuív and Fahey [local Fianna Fail TDs] are not capable of defending their own parish pump. I know Mr Fahey is not doing it, he’s come out in favour of the cuts, and Mr Ó Cuív is sitting on the fence.”
He says HSE services, such as home help and mental health, have a “very big” deficit problem. “If you closed every community health service in the county down for the year the HSE would still be in deficit.”
He warns the health cuts will have a ripple effect all over the community. “If Hospital 2 - the orthopaedic service - goes from seven days working to five days - that doesn’t mean you can do five-sevenths of the work you used to do. You couldn’t really do orthopaedics on that basis. People require more than five days to recover. There will be some work they can’t do.
“And this is only 2010. You can expect them [the HSE] to come back, there will be more cuts in 2011 and 2012.”
Meanwhile Dep Frank Fahey is urging union leaders to back the cuts, saying reform is necessary to make the health system work more effectively and efficiently.
Deputy Fahey criticised the unions for “scaremongering” and adopting a ‘business as usual’ approach, saying significant reforms are necessary to make the health system work better and to get better value for money for tax payers.
“I was encouraged when the unions and HSE management met in Galway recently and agreed that they would work together to bring about the reforms that are necessary in the management of acute health services at UCHG and Merlin Park Hospital,” Dep Fahey said. “However I am disappointed at the approach being taken since by some people involved.
“The scaremongering being done by some union leaders about threats to services is appalling, particularly where there are clear political motivations. It is not fair of some figures to be playing on the fears of the public for their own political gain. My experience in dealing with the vast majority of people that work with the HSE is that they themselves want reform and they cannot accept a continuation of the wastage that is to be found right across the structures of the health service.
“There was an opportunity for reform and rationalisation of services when the health boards were disbanded, but this was not done effectively and it must be done now,” Dep Fahey added. “We want to ensure that frontline services are not affected by the reconfiguration that is being proposed but services can be provided in a more cost effective way without necessarily having a negative impact on their users.
“It must be stressed that no permanent jobs will be lost as a result of the changes that are being proposed and I welcome the assurance this week from Dr David O’Keeffe, general manager in UHG, that 220 temporary jobs at the hospital will not be affected by the cutbacks.
“I have met with the regional director of operations for HSE West John Hennessy, and I have also held discussions with Minister Harney. I want to welcome the fact that discussions are ongoing under the auspices of the LRC to address the over spend in the budget for UCHG and other hospitals in the west and I look torwards a positive outcome from them this week.
“We must continue to work together, along with the unions, to ensure that the necessary savings can be achieved without adversely affecting people who need the health service.”