Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2024

Delivering Universal Healthcare: Statements


2:20 pm

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source

There seems to be consensus on the concept of universal care. This debate is on universal healthcare or Sláintecare, that is, a national health service. We all try to strive for that system. Such a system has been proven to have better outcomes for everybody. Whether people are on social welfare or are a millionaire, they should have access to universal healthcare. The outcomes are much better in places which have universal healthcare than in systems where there are inequalities and healthcare is based on what people have in their pockets rather than anything else. While you might think that the United States has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, it has one of the poorest in the industrialised world in terms of the outcomes for the population because of the gross inequalities in its health service.

Once people get into the health system in this country, it is brilliant. The nurses, doctors and care assistants are fantastic, highly motivated and well-trained. The vast majority of people will be looked after extremely well. That is really good. Obviously, a huge amount of money is spent on the health system in this country. That is the good part, and I think there would be consensus on that.

There are serious inequalities in terms of health. We have a system whereby 50% of people still rely on private health insurance. There are bottlenecks in the system in terms of emergency departments in the State. There are various degrees of arbitrary treatment in some emergency departments. Waiting lists for surgical procedures, assessments and so forth are huge. I understand Sláintecare is trying to address those issues. There are long-standing inequalities in our healthcare system.

In the 1980s, we had more hospital beds in our public health system than we have now, which is quite extraordinary. There have been huge cutbacks in the health service. That is not a good thing. Once people get timely intervention and treatment, their outcomes are very good. However, when people do not get treatment and timely intervention the outcomes can be detrimental to their health.

Another aspect of our health system is outsourcing and the use of agency staff in the public health system. Huge amounts of money go to the private rather than public system. The private system still exists. There are people in this country who are what I would term Irish oligarchs who make a huge amount of money from private healthcare. I object to that. Individuals make an enormous amount of money from private healthcare, and that is not a good thing.

Deputy Shortall mentioned the chronic shortage of public health nurses in particular CHO areas. In CHO 7, there are no public health nurses at all in certain areas. One would wonder why that is the case, because this is the front line of healthcare for young children and elderly people. Public health nurses cannot rent in particular areas, which has a knock-on effect on recruitment. The embargo is having a knock-on effect whereby CHO areas cannot recruit certain staff. That is a really bad thing.

Public healthcare has been hugely beneficial for society. We have to consider the health system as a societal issue. When people do not receive timely interventions, there are huge divides. We have seen that throughout Covid. If we want to see how our system is divided in terms of class and economics, we can look to our health system. Some 50% of people still rely on private health insurance. Why is that? I am sure the majority would like to rely on our public health system, but they feel - they may or may not be correct – that they can get timely intervention outside of the public health system. That system is fundamentally wrong.


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