Rural health services under attack

The Bengoa reform is only the latest attempts to dismantle, rationalise and therefore privatise the NHS in Northern Ireland. The report – which has the agreement of all parties in the Executive – provides a blueprint for services to be withdrawn from rural areas and opens the path for ever greater encroachment by private operators in every aspect of health and social care.

The outworkings of this are to be seen in the growing role of the private agencies who are being paid hundreds of millions every year to deliver staffing – money that could easily fund a fair pay deal for NHS workers sufficient to bring back workers and end the staffing crisis.

But the staffing crisis that results undermines the delivery of services – most especially in rural areas where staffing retention and recruitment are most challenging – and this provides the grounds for Stormont decisions to cut services claiming that staffing levels are unsafe. Of course, those dependent on these fast-disappearing services find themselves forced to pay for alternative treatments – normalising the concept of paid medicine and undermining the ethos of the ‘free at the point of delivery’ NHS.

In recent weeks announcements threatening the acute status at South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen and Daisy Hill hospital in Newry have been made by the respective trusts. Continue reading “Rural health services under attack”

Neonatal mothballed at SWAH

A few days after Christmas, I started getting calls for concerned parents and workers in relation to the neonatal unit at South West Acute Hospital. They reported that the neonatal unit had closed down.

I could hardly believe it but as I received more and more calls I started to fear that it was accurate.

Only four years ago, the Western Health and Social Care Trust had threatened to close the service as a cost-cutting measure. Our local campaign swung into action, we mobilised hundreds of local people twice in three days and threatened to take the campaign to Derry/L’Derry before the money to keep the service was magically found and the threat removed.

Question submitted

Conscious of this history, I submitted a question to the new Chief Executive of the WHSCT Neil Guckian on December 30th. I didn’t receive any response so I contacted local journalists about what I was hearing in both the Impartial Reporter and Fermanagh Herald. I suggested that if they would also ask the question we might get clarity. They both did so and we resolved to keep each other informed.

On January 7th I received a reply confirming my worse fears. The unit was down to two cots and these were only for assessment with babies being sent elsewhere. The unit was effectively mothballed. As expected, Covid was blamed although there was a recognition that this was a long-standing recruitment problem. This was certainly true.

Continue reading “Neonatal mothballed at SWAH”

Support NHS workers in their fight for a 15% pay increase!

NHS brave the elements in the powerful strike of 2018/2019 to win pay parity but still suffer low pay and a staffing crisis

In December 2018 and January 2019 NHS workers took historic strike action and won pay parity with healthcare workers in England and Wales as a result.

Now Healthcare workers are demanding a pay increase to recover all what was lost over the past decades.

Everyone needs to get behind those who have been on the frontline of Covid as they fight for a pay increase that will aid recruitment, end the staffing crisis and secure a proper standard of living for all those who provide vital health and social care.

Save our GPs!

Donal O’Cofaigh has highlighted repeatedly the continued failure by Stormont to address the ongoing GP crisis in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. In recent months he publicly revealed statistics confirming the scale and extent of the crisis in GP out-of-hours cover.

Funding for primary care (GPs) in NI is among the lowest in the UK. Moves to increase the numbers of GPs being trained up are far too low to address the shortfall. Even more disgracefully Stormont is refusing to consider the obvious option of the NHS directly employing GPs and directing them to work in areas of greatest need – just as other emergency workers are recruited.

The failure to deal with the GP crisis and the out-of-hours GP crisis – means that pressures on our Emergency Department are overwhelming. Staff are underpaid, understaffed and at breaking point. Those who need medical attention face interminable waits, meaning serious conditions being undiagnosed. A perfect storm is brewing and there is a genuine fear that there are those at the top of the Health Department who will not let a ‘good crisis go to waste’. We face the threat of further creeping privatisation and cutbacks. We must stand ready to organise to defend our NHS services!

Vital to learn lessons from the last peak and look after staff and vulnerable in care homes

With the rise in Covid 19 cases it is important to learn the lessons from the last peak and look after staff and vulnerable patients in nursing homes. It was therefore good to see Fermanagh and Omagh council passing a motion brought by Councillor Donal O Cofaigh for an independent public inquiry into care home deaths. The motion passed despite the opposition of Unionist councillors.

The motion referenced revelations around the Department of Health’s handling of Covid-19 in social care. Unfortunately, there is a lack of transparency from the Stormont administration about outbreaks in Northern Ireland. This needs to change so that health campaigners like Donal do not have to fight just to get answers on nursing home outbreaks.

Nursing home staff should join a union to help protect them from any health and safety breaches. It is time employers were made to ensure there is enough PPE to protect staff and patients. They must have a proper testing system in place.

We also need to move nursing homes out of the hands of private for-profit operators. Run as public services they would help provide better care for staff and patients.

Socialism needed to end the profits of Big Pharma trumping public health

The US-based, private sector big pharma giant Gilead is set to charge $3,120 for a basic five-day course of Remdesivir. The drug is believed to be a potent life-saving drug for Covid-19. Generously they  offered to discount to a mere $2,340 for programmes for US veterans and defence forces! That price however won’t extend to the poor and elderly dependent on Medicare and Medicaid.

Such price tags are even more shocking when the reported cost of production of Resdemivir is as low as $10 for a recommended, 10-day course.

Even allowing for the research costs associated with developing this drug, the bulk of the colossal charge will be pure profit. Shareholders will benefit from bigger dividends and corporate bosses will receive bumper bonuses.

The consequences of such a price tag will be pain and death for working-class people, the poor, people of colour and those living in neo-colonial countries. Anyone unable to either access or afford this life-saving medicine.

This is just another example, and there are many in big pharma, of how capitalism puts the interests of speculators ahead of public health.

Inter-imperialist rivalries and health

To make matters  worse, and in another example of how the rise of nationalism is cutting across the global public health response to Covid-19, the US government under President Trump has bought all Gilead production lines to ensure they go to rich US citizens first. Covid victims outside the US will be left dependent on licensed production facilities. Many of these production sites are starting from scratch in production of the drug making delays inevitable.

These moves – part and parcel of how capitalism and mounting imperialist rivalries intersect public health – will put this live-saving medicine out of reach of many, not just in the US but globally.

The Socialist alternative

In a socialist economy things would be different. Government would fund publicly-funded universities and provide support towards the cost of teams of health researchers to discover needed drugs. State-owned medical companies would then mass produce them and distribute them on the basis of need not profit.

That socialist model is not impossible. Just consider the old British NHS system that Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and those who followed her, dismantled.

Governments pump public funds to privately-owned universities but insufficiently to meet both their running costs and the profits of shareholders. Students must sink themselves in debt to pay university fees, repayable over the rest of their lives. Meanwhile the private sector is creaming off university discoveries through targeted ‘sponsorship’. On the other hand, government awards colossal contracts and huge payments for medicines to big Pharma. Big Pharma in turn use such guaranteed income streams from government to build their own fully privately-owned research facilities.

The private sector is milking the public purse for profit from every conceivable angle. Working-class and poor people who need medicines suffer. This is the reality of modern-day capitalism.

Continue reading “Socialism needed to end the profits of Big Pharma trumping public health”