Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fixing the health service

It seems a day doesn't go by without irate callers jamming Joe Duffy's Liveline with horror stories about the health-service. A+E clogged up by drunks at weekends, MRSA, the Winter vomiting-bug, nurses strikes, bed-closures, and most of all, corridors overflowing with often elderly patients on trollies. Yet amidst all the righteous indignation, the real culprit escapes blame from our politically-correct media.

By the real culprits, I do not mean the politicians. They are only accessories to the problem, which is that almost without exception, socialised medicine monopolised by the State has proven itself a disaster, and perhaps nowhere more so than in Ireland. Now, it may be a surprise for you to hear then, that of all the parties in the last election, I consider Labour's to have been closest to the mark in terms of repairing our moribund health service. Yet their plans were also fatally flawed. They have been calling for years for universal health-insurance, envisaging a health-insurance market of at least 4 main players. This is eminently sensible. The reason why uninsured patients have to wait far longer to be treated is obvious (except to the most blinkered on the Left) - the hospitals lack the incentive to treat public-patients, while having an incentive to treat the privately-insured. That is because they stand to gain revenues from the insurance companies that they do not with public patients. In that context, I agree that health-insurance should be universal and compulsory. I also agree with Labour's proposals that the State should help those who cannot afford it.

Yet this is not the whole story. If Labour is right on universal insurance, then they are dead wrong on another branch of their health policy - opposition to hospital co-location. Their opposition to this lacks joined-up thinking and reflects the Left's distaste for private-enterprise and the market. By comparing the Irish health-service unfavourably to those of the continental model while proposing a public-sector hospital monopoly, Labour are failing to see the wood for the trees. In France, 33% of the hospitals are privately-owned, providing 15% of bed-capacity. Things move much faster in the private-sector. It took 20 years to build Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, compared to 2 years to build the Beacon in Sandyford. We cannot afford to wait around just so Labour's bankrollers in the unions can continue sacrificing Irish patients on the alter of maintaining their power to hold us to ransom in return for ever more insatiable wage demands. Nor can we hope to reform the outdated work-practices if this monopoly persists. The Irish people deserve an alternative to a moribund, overpaid and inefficient public hospital system dominated by vested interests feathering their nests while patients suffer. For that reason Mary Harney must push on with her plans for co-location. While her party is on life-support, she can at least leave a respectable legacy if she finally exorcises the demons of socialised medicine from the Irish health service.

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1 comment:

Crusty Burke said...

You are truly talking through your arse FT. We have NO socialised medicine in Ireland. Who owns the hospitals? Mostly the Catholic Church. Who owns the medical practices? Mostly the GPs themselves. Ever heard of the General Medical Service? It's mean tested. Yep. Mean tested so only those who "can't afford it" get free medical treatment.

If we actually had a "socialized medical service" everyone regardless of income could get free treatment.