Well, it’s finally happened. The economic downturn is upon us, our public finances are under severe pressure and major cutbacks in healthcare spending are anticipated. Our already ailing health service is set to suffer even further and it almost goes without saying that patient care will be compromised.
Brendan Drumm, the HSE chief, believes that in the present economic environment, the health service could face five years without any extra funding. He also believes that there is no reason why the standard of health service provision should suffer as a consequence. Our Minister for Health, Mary Harney has warned that hospitals must operate within budget and must do so without impacting on patient care. We’re told that the way our hospitals are being run is both ineffective and inefficient. I turned on the news last night to hear that hospitals across the country are facing a scaling back of services with staff cuts and ward closures. One hospital has already accused the HSE of gross neglect of patients and claims that the cutbacks are being done at the expense of patients. A spokesperson for the HSE insisted that patient care will not be compromised by the cutbacks. Who do they think they’re fooling?
My biggest fear is that patient’s lives will be put at risk by these further cutbacks in spending. There is already a serious problem in our hospitals with the level of healthcare associated infections (HCAI’s) such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. Poor cleaning, overcrowding, inadequate facilities, lack of infection control staff, poor management and a lack of accountability have all contributed to unacceptable levels of infection and death within our health system. There is also growing public disquiet. We are constantly promised that improvements are “planned” or “under way” but how can this be so when cutbacks in basic front-line services are being simultaneously requested. This is not the time to talk about cutbacks and the necessity of hospitals staying within budgets. The HSE has lost sight of the needs of the patients. It increasingly prioritises bureaucracy and finance rather than health, with numbers and budgets taking precedence over real people and care.
We are once again being asked to tighten our belts. Brendan Drumm says that it is the duty of everybody, including the health service, to use taxpayers’ money more effectively. This is all very well and good but could someone please explain why this situation has arisen after a whole decade of unprecedented economic growth? Is there any Government accountability left in the area of healthcare?
UPDATE: In case anyone ever thinks I’m exaggerating about the state of our health service, have a look at this post which can also be found over at Irish Election. It details the experience of bringing a child to A&E and is a classic example of how the system is failing to provide emergency care. This post completely mirrors my thoughts.