Ireland: Protestant and Catholic organisations oppose hospital reform plans

 Two Christian organisations, one Protestant, the other Catholic, yesterday issued a joint policy paper: The Irish Health Service: Vision Values, Reality in which they express their opposition to building public and private hospitals in the same grounds. In a statement they say: "The building of private hospitals on the grounds of public hospitals would entrench the existing two-tier system of hospital care and make it all the more difficult in the future to bring about change in that system." The Paper, prepared by the Adelaide Hospital Society and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, claims that the co-location proposal "sends out a powerful message about Government backing and support for the existing two-tier hospital system" and says that it "represents a significant threat to the fundamental values of care and justice, which require that health provision is seen first and foremost an essential service, which should be available on the basis of need." Speaking at the launch of the report in Dublin yesterday, Dr Fergus O'Ferrall, Director of the Adelaide Hospital Society, said: "From a long-term perspective, a particularly worrying element of this proposal is that it promotes the perception and the reality that health care is just another commodity to be bought and sold." He pointed out that even though these hospitals would be built only with the backing of significant public subsidies, the State would not even be a co-owner of them. Meanwhile, those with sufficient money to make this kind of investment would have been enabled to reduce their tax liability and acquire a capital asset. Fr Tony O'Riordan SJ, Director of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, said: "We are now at a crossroads in Irish health care reform. It is essential that the politicians who are currently engaged in negotiating a new programme for Government should commit to a new vision and a clear set of values for our health service which will ensure that every person is treated on the basis of their need rather than their financial status." The Position Paper suggests that four core values should underlie health services: care; excellence; justice and freedom. It points out that these values are not dissimilar to those espoused in the Health Strategy published by the Government in 2001. However, said Margaret Burns, Social Policy Officer with the Jesuit Centre: "Too often in the Irish health care system, values such as fairness are used as a mantra rather than an agenda for action." The current reality of the Irish health services makes a mockery of the stated values outlined in the Health Strategy, she said. In the Position Paper, the two organisations call for: * A halt to the drift towards privatisation, a commitment to end the two-tier system of health care and a level of investment that would ensure "an excellent public health service, available to all on the basis of need"; * The wide extension of medical card eligibility and eventually the provision of primary care free at the point of delivery for the whole population; * Greater accountability by the Health Service Executive, and increased opportunities for participation in decision-making by the public and by voluntary organisations. * Greater political commitment to reducing the wide disparity in health status between rich and poor. For more information see: and Source: JCFJ

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