[Sinn Fein]

26 November 2001

MacManus slams Government Health Strategy for Failing to Dismantle Two-Tier Health

Responding to the release of the government's ten year National Health Strategy earlier today, Sinn Fein election candidate for Sligo-Leitrim Councillor Seán MacManus has condemned the Fianna Fáil-led government for failing the central test of the current healthcare crisis.

Speaking from his constituency office in Sligo, MacManus said, ``I am not merely disappointed, I am appalled by the government's lack of leadership on this issue. They have squandered the best chance this state has ever had to redress the structural problems of our health system.''

He explained, ``Despite the Health Strategy's many proposed changes, the plan does not fundamentally reorient the system. It does not guarantee universal access to care based on need alone.''

MacManus continued, ``This Health Strategy will cost more than 10 billion. The government talks about `value for money'. But what value are we getting for this money? The plan does not give us free primary care. It does not give us a single, prioritised waiting list ensuring that patients most in need get care first. Instead, this Health Strategy copper-fastens the two-tier public-private system that has failed us to date. Moreover, it actually proposes to entrench and increase state subsidy to the private system, under a waiting list reduction scheme that transfers public patients to private care. This is outrageous, and further undermines the public system instead of strengthening it.''

He said, ``Even after this Health Strategy is fully implemented in ten years, we can still expect to have a situation where one's income will determine access, quality, and speed of care. We will still have a situation where many working people do not qualify for a General Medical Card, but also cannot afford private insurance. Therefore, despite the planned reforms to the primary care system, we will still have a situation where many people cannot afford to go to the doctor, and cannot afford to take their children to the doctor. This is not acceptable. This is not leadership in health.''

MacManus continued, ``I have many problems with this plan, and it's easy to get distracted by the minutiae. However, I will say this. There are some positive measures in the strategy. There are some flawed measures in the strategy. But the biggest problem is that it fails to deliver on the central demand of the Irish public - that is, to end unequal access to healthcare by dismantling the two-tier public-private system, and equalize healthcare by making it freely available to all based on need.''

MacManus said, ``The Irish people want radical change in the healthcare system. Sinn Fein is ready to deliver this radical change. But this government insists on clinging to an unequal system that does not work. What they have done with this Health Strategy is tantamount to calling for a protest vote on health. Fianna Fáil may not be committed to full equality in healthcare, but Sinn Fein is. Fianna Fáil may not consider health care to be a human right, but Sinn Fein does.''

Stating that Fianna Fáil has had almost five years and ample funds available to deliver on health, MacManus concluded, ``The National Health Strategy was their last chance to commit to the necessary reforms. But their plan will not end two-tier healthcare in this country. Fianna Fáil cannot dodge this. They have failed us. I would assure Bertie Ahern and Health Minister Martin that voters in Sligo and Leitrim will make their dissatisfaction about this government's record on healthcare known in the next general election.''

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