[Sinn Fein]

3rd May 2002

Ending inequality in health is Sinn Fein's priority

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP this morning launched the party's Health manifesto and called for the establishment of a high-powered, all party cabinet committee to bring forward a focused and integrated plan for the strategic transformation of the health system. This must include wide-spread public consultation.

Mr Adams said:

`` Health is one of the major issues dominating Irish life and has rightly become a central issue in this election campaign. Health care is the big casualty of the Fianna Fáil/PD Coalition and before that the Rainbow Coalition. The legacy of cut backs and under-funding is that the health system in this state is now bottom of the European Health league. This is the reality in Celtic Tiger Ireland.

There are almost 28,000 people awaiting hospital treatment, we have the worst life expectancy in Europe and 15% of acute beds have closed due to staff shortages. Women in rural areas have to travel long distances for cancer services.

The gross inequality in our health system is a scandal. In our two-tier system the wealthy can buy the best care while the rest join growing waiting lists.

It is clear that there is cross party agreement on the need to increase public financing of healthcare. The main issue is how this money is spent.

Instead of presenting a strategy for equality, all of the establishment parties plan to use the two tier public/private system as the basis for the health services. This will only perpetuate the inequalities.

Sinn Fein believes that inequality can only be eradicated by a long-term strategy which addresses health care in the round, tackling poverty, promoting healthy lifestyles and building a single tier public health system.

The provision of a health care system free at the point of delivery - should be a priority for the incoming government. This policy objective should be the starting point for a strategic transformation of the health system.

Sinn Fein is proposing that this can be best achieved through the establishment of a high-powered, all-party cabinet committee, tasked with bringing forward a focused and integrated plan for healthcare, following public consultation.

All of this should be done, as much as possible on an all-Ireland basis, by building at this time on the Good Friday Agreement obligations to harmonise the health services, north and south.

All citizens should have health care as a right from the cradle to the grave. Such a system will not be achieved overnight. With the political will and application a service like this is an achievable objective.

Sinn Fein is proposing a ten year strategy to convert the private health insurance system into a single tier public system.

In the short term we propose increasing health funding to 8% of GDP.

In the short term we propose abolishing tax incentives for private medical care. The 165 million that this will produce could more than double the proposed increase in new acute beds. Also in the short term returning employers PRSI to 12% would yield up to 347 million in extra funding for the health service.

We propose that:-

Opponents of such policies, including those who have presided over the disaster in the health service, will say that we cannot afford such a service. But the whole point behind taxation is to fund infrastructure, public utilities and public services. And by making the establishment of a free health service a policy objective then tax policy needs to be shaped to fund this requirement.

Our proposals are reasonable and they are achievable. They look beyond the current inequalities and give us a route map into a new system, a better system. Tinkering with the current mess is not an option. It needs a radical approach.

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