High noon as HSE West prepares to wield axe on local services

A leading local trade union official says he is hopeful that the powerful campaign mounted by the public against the proposed health cuts may influence the HSE West when it wields its axe today (Thursday ).

Commenting in advance of a noon meeting - in which HSE management will meet its regional health forum members as well as Oireachtas politicians to reveal its proposals to cut spending by €65m this year - Paul Hardy, SIPTU health services organiser locally, says he believed the health authority would have been “surprised” by the pressure brought to bear by the health care unions and the public.

“I’m hopeful this will influence their decisions about what cuts they are going to make. It is important to keep the momentum generated by the public’s campaign going. The HSE can change their decisions very fast when under pressure. My concern is we are not just talking about cuts in 2010, down the line there will be cuts in 2011 and 2012. I would say to people if you value your health service, then you need to protect it.”

Mr Hardy says he remains concerned about the future of the orthopaedic service at Merlin Park Hospital (despite reassurances from the HSE that it will not be downgraded ), public oncology and the home help service.

“The orthopaedic service was to be reduced from seven days to five originally which was a short way from making it unworkable. Then this wasn’t going to happen, then it was, then it wasn’t. So, it’s hard to know.

“I’m concerned about the future of public oncology also, that the HSE West may completely hand over the oncology service to the private sector, probably the Galway Clinic. Doing that would enable it [the HSE] to get money from the National Treatment Purchase Fund [a Government initiative designed to cut hospital waiting lists by offering public patients treatment in private hospitals ]”.

The SIPTU official says he fears the home help service as well will suffer in the HSE cost curtailment plan.

“I’m concerned at the numbers of hours which have been taken out of the service, in some cases these have been replaced by agency workers and in others, not at all.

“My other concerns relate to student nurses. The HSE refused to bring in this year’s cohort of student nurses into the year’s training in hospitals,” he claims. “There are two aspects to this - (1 ) each student nurse accounts for half a nurse so this is like taking 100 nurses out of the system (2 ) this is also damaging to Galway’s reputation as a centre for medical training.”

Mr Hardy says when the HSE’s axe strikes he fears it will hit community services and mental health, areas which are not as visible to people.

Meanwhile the Galway Says No to Health Cuts campaign group is urging city councillors to support its demonstration which will take place on Saturday at 2pm at Galway Cathedral.

Chairperson Dette McLoughlin says the group has been organising street stalls and contacting community groups to build support for the demonstration which will highlight the impact of Government cuts to Galway’s public hospitals and public health services.

“Hopefully a majority of councillors will agree to back the demonstration against cutbacks. And, if so, it would add weight to the campaign if a representative group of councillors would hold a press conference to publicly call on the citizens of Galway to come out in numbers for this important protest to stop the decimation of our public health service.

“The support for our campaign is growing in strength with messages of support and solidarity arriving from trade unionists and politicians. IMPACT, which represents workers in the health service, have added their support to our demonstration. SIPTU health services division are backing the campaign, which is a broad based group of patients, healthworkers, trade unionists and members of the public.”

She says links with other campaign groups are vital if the public is to halt the “Government attacks on our public health service”.

“This is especially with expectations of another €700,000,000 to be cut from the health budget, to be announced in December. The support from the people at our Galway street stalls has been excellent. People are so angry when they hear the facts: such as that University Hospital already has the largest waiting list in the country for hospital treatment; or the fact that consultants and associated staff at Merlin Park Hospital are willing and able to carry out more operation procedures which would reduce their waiting lists, but they are not allowed to.

“The moratorium on staff recruitment is causing a huge problem in itself, and makes no sense whatsoever with half a million unemployed in the country. The public do not accept that the Irish economic crash means there is no money for healthcare when they see billions of euros being given to banks. People are demanding an alternative.”

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