Anger as Cork health workers fight on two fronts ...

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Cork hospitals are under attack with major cuts planned ... Meanwhile Beacon Medical Group's planned 'Co-location' hospital in Cork draws closer. It would seem like high-time to call in the union and put manners on a few people but where is SIPTU's Joe O'Callaghan?The anger of health workers in Cork reached near boiling point at a meeting on Wednesday night hosted by the Campaign For A Real Health Service. The meeting, at Cork’s Imperialist Hotel, was called to highlight the planned construction of a private hospital by the Beacon Medical Group  on the crowded grounds of Cork’s University Hospital. While the speakers addressed the issue of the Mary Harney’s so-called “Colocation” strategy and the dangers it poses to the already over-stretched public health services, workers from the Cork’s St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital spoke with passion and anger about the current efforts to downgrade the facility. Much of the anger was directed at the HSE and its bumbling head, Brendan Drum, but special mention was also made of the attitude and inaction of SIPTU’s full time official, Joe O’Callaghan.

The Orthopaedic is the last remaining hospital on Cork’s North Side. It is set on large spacious grounds and is renowned for the quality of its care. Despite widespread opposition, Brendan Drum is intent on cutting services at the hospital. Earlier this month staff at the hospital were informed about ‘possible changes’ at the hospital. Drum’s main target is the key orthopaedic services which he is intent on moving across town to the already overburdened CUH. Although the move is opposed by doctors at the hospital, Drum has made it plain that as with the Mercy hospital, the Orthopaedic’s days as an operational hospital are numbered. Apart from the damage to patient care there are well over two hundred and fifty jobs also at stake.

At the root of the ongoing rearrangement in hospital services in the Cork city area is a bold attempt by Drum and his cronies to cut costs and save money. There is a widespread suspicious among those in the know that the HSE intends to sell off a large section of the land on which the Orthopaedic is located if it is allowed to succeed with its plan. This is prime building land and has been on the radar of beady-eyed speculators for quite some time. A further scenario includes the prospect that a section of the Orthopaedic will in due course actually be turned over to a consortium intent on re-opening a new private ‘orthopaedic’ facility to meet the ‘for profit’ health care market.

What emerged clearly at Wednesday night’s meeting was that the struggle in the health service in Cork is now reaching a crisis. Cutbacks are underway in the Mercy Hospital, where a long standing issue has been the failure of the hospital to open a new A & E (see http://www.indymedia.ie/article/87804 ) remains unresolved. Now also the Orthopaedic is threatened. All of this is happening as the last rubber stamp (An Bord Pleanála) is put on the Beacon Medical Group’s planned private hospital to be ‘co-located’ at CUH in the Wilton area of Cork. Although Beacon is an Irish company (see www.beaconmedicalgroup.ie ) the actual 175 bed hospital will be run for it by the “for profit” US health Care giant, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center ( www.upmc.com ). Don’t be misled by the name, UPMC is a business not a centre for teaching and learning.

For Beacon, making money will never come as easy as it will for them in this project. Not only are they availing of huge Government grants for the construction phase, but they will also, once operational, avail of the CUH’s publically funded facilities and resources. Beacon will also have ready access to the multitude of consultants at CUH (paid generously from the public purse). On Wednesday these same consultants, aware of the lucrative windfall that is likely to come their way via co-location, ‘strongly backed” the BMG at the Bord Pleanála hearing.

Against this scenario workers at the Orthopaedic spoke in anger of their efforts to date to fight the privatisation moves and cutbacks. However they are fighting on two fronts – not only against the HSE but also against their own SIPTU branch official – none other than Joe O’Callaghan. O’Callaghan, who is also a Fine Gael councillor (we kid you not), was almost always ‘at a meeting’ when anyone from his branch called Connolly Hall for looking for him during the past week. You would think Joe would see the importance of this issue, but hell no ... Joe is too busy at with other matters! It was pointed out that he never returns calls and on a few occasions has chastised SIPTU workers for speaking to the media over his head. The most serious allegation levelled at O’Callaghan had to do with the fact that he was reputed to be on holidays in Turkey as the Orthopaedic closure was announced. It was also alleged that he was on holidays with one of the managers from the Orthopaedic! Could it be true?

The strength of feeling about the dire situation was such that a number of contributors spoke of the need for health workers in Cork City to organise for themselves and to make contact with other health workers in order to tackle the grave situation. It was also stated by a numbers to trade unionists that it is high time that trade union members took their unions back from the full time officials who are acting as a law unto themselves. As was pointed out by one able speaker from the floor, the union is its members NOT its officials. Further meeting are planned to act on this initiative so watch this space.

First published on www.indymedia.ie

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