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Plaster politics won’t heal our health service

When Minister Paschal Donohoe took to his feet on Budget day he announced that the State’s health spending is set to increase by €685 million in 2018. This additional funding means €15.3 billion will be available for health services in 2018. However, when you scratch the surface it is found that beneath the spin this headline-grabbing figure comes with a major health warning.

Taking into account the dramatic increase in the population of patients over 65 accessing public health services this Budget at best is just maintaining services as they are currently. At worst, Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance are throwing good money after bad, not learning from past mistakes, further privatising the health service and not addressing the ever-expanding demands being placed upon public health services.

The reality facing health workers and their patients is that a sticking plaster won’t help heal our health service.

On paper, the Budget says it will provide 1,800 additional staff across the acute, mental health, disability, primary health and community sectors but frontline staff won’t just magically appear because of some fiscal exercise or political set piece of spin. The Government must get real on recruiting and retaining workers in the health service including paramedics, healthcare assistants, radiographers, nurses, midwives, radiation therapists and other health and social care professionals and this includes providing unions with a clear roadmap to address new entrants pay.

It is also deeply troubling that following months of work by members of the Oireachtas Future of Health Care Committee the Government missed an open goal to begin the job of funding the real reform of health care in Ireland.

Sláintecare, a fully costed, ten-year plan, supported by the ICTU, to implement publicly funded healthcare was published less than 3 months ago to much fanfare and with cross-party support, but it was never mentioned once in the Budget. Instead of Sláintecare, what we have is a Government pumping money into privatising health services through the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

For people who can afford private healthcare, the extra €30 million for the National Treatment Purchase fund bringing it to €55 million will go some way towards helping the middle from “being squeezed” any further but in reality, this plan pushes public health services deeper into the pockets of private operators and means less funding for public health services which the majority of SIPTU members and their families depend on. Moreover, it will prove to be a drop in the ocean of the waiting list figures that look set to stay well over the shameful figure of 600,000 into 2018 and beyond.

Every budget is about a choice. This Government’s choice to pursue the path of least resistance with their comrades in opposition, its stunning levels of short-termism and tokenistic tax cuts puts beyond any doubt that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independent Alliance agreed to this Budget with one eye on an impending General Election.

Tragically but predictably at the very heart of this tepid budget is a serious lack of ambition to resolve the problems working people face in health, housing and education.

The dogs on the street know that even this record-breaking health budget won’t keep pace with expanding health demands, the deficit in health is likely to grow and another bailout will be required by the end of 2018. We all know this script off by heart by now and until we get real, seize the opportunity provided by Sláintecare, the Government will continue to set records on spending but fail to deliver records on outcomes.

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