Decades of underinvestment are overwhelming health care staff.and leading to massive waiting time. Patient care is at risk and frontline staff in many departments are at breaking point. Lack of planning and investment has created a massive shortage of nurses and a crisis in GP services.
Over the holiday period, Antrim Area Hospital was forced to use volunteer St John Ambulance workers. Janice Smyth, the NI Director of the Royal College of Nursing union, described this as:
“An unprecedented step and it is another sign our health and social care system is in crisis. We don’t have enough nursing staff.
“This is heading only in one direction and in the absence of a workforce plan this is highly dangerous. Once broken, it is not easily fixed.”
Nurses and hospital support staff have endured years of wage freezes and an overall reduction in pay with rising inflation and costs.
Outsourcing means that large numbers of domicillary care workers are paid not much more than the minimum wage, forcing them to work up to 60 hours a week. Mental health services are inadequate and set to come under further strain following the introduction of Universal Credit, PIP and benefit cuts.
The SDLP and others have called for the restoration of the Stormont Assembly to solve the health funding crisis. However, the present health crisis is a direct consequence of the policies emanating from Stormont and Westminster over the last decade.
Stormont negotiations must involve a commitment to end the NHS funding crisis.
This must also include ending Stormont plans to reduce hundreds of millions in available funding by cutting taxes on hugely profitable corporations.
Before Stormont collapsed Sinn Fein’s then Minister for Health, Michelle O’Neill, unveiled a 10 year plan to ‘transform’ health and social care delivery in the North based on proposals in the Bengoa Report. Without doubt, health and social care delivery can be modernised and improved, however, many worry the report includes plans to cut back services and care provision.
To deal with the present crisis the health service needs emergency funding and a long-term commitment to increase funding.
However, the Tories, propped up by the DUP, are intent on further starving the NHS of funding to create a two-tier health system of the ‘haves and the haves not’.
Funding reductions have also laid the basis for the further privatisation of health care delivery. Stormont parties accommodated and encouraged privatisation of health care in the North.
The availability of funding is not the problem – and corporations and super-rich who stash their wealth in global tax havens can see their taxes raised to fund decent public services.
Austerity is a political choice, driven by neoliberal ideology, with the goal of opening up public services to market privatisation and profiteering.
The future of all public services in the North are at stake.
Budget projections for health and social care, education and transportation all include massive cuts.
To save our services austerity and the drive towards privatisation must be halted.
Broad based mobilisations and trade union action are key to reversing cuts and demanding properly funded services that put patient care and workers’ rights first.