Health – solutions not complaints

June 21, 2007 at 10:27 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

This is the second policy proposal area that I have said I will address during the Seanad campaign. Over the last few weeks I have had many calls from people concerned about our health service. It is clear that a comprehensive, competent and caring health service is the measure of a civilised society. What we seem to be experiencing however are long waiting lists for treatment, slow access to needed services, over-crowded and dirty hospitals, highly stressed health workers and deficits in specialist services such as for those with disabilities.

 This must change. I have talked to patients, carers and health professionals. At present, I and a number of colleagues are doing a major study into disability services in Mayo. I teach nursing students in both general and psychiatric disciplines. Much of my professional work as a sociologist is in the area of health and illness. In addition, I am a carrier of the cystic fibrosis genetic defect and have lost two sisters to the disease. 

There are no easy solutions. However, the following are some practical ideas that we need to address. 

1 Why are we so ill?

We need to think about this so we can address the root causes of illness. Three key areas are poverty, lifestyle and environment. All of these are health issues.

  • Poverty causes illness – due to poor food, poor accommodation, increased stress.
  • Bad lifestyle causes illness – lack of exercise, long commuting, excess eating and alcohol intake.
  • Damaged environment causes illness – bad air quality, chemical contamination of food and houses, pollution.

To address our mounting level of illness we need systemic approaches to each of these interrelated areas. This means a political vision to create a society that is socially just and ecologically sustainable. 

2 Why do we need so many hospitals?

We need to re-orientate people away from hospitals. This is to free up hospital beds for those who do need them and to keep people away from the high-risk environment that hospitals now are. We need:

  • Community care strategies integrating homes, schools, workplaces and local clinics linked to GP services
  • Comprehensive health promotion and preventative health interventions
  • Local maternity services and mobile home birth support services
  • Comprehensive localised drug and alcohol treatment facilities
  • Support for independent living for those with physical and intellectual disabilities

 3 Why do we have a two-tier system?

Healthcare is a human right. It must never be a product that can be more easily accessed by those with higher incomes than others. We need:

  • A single, comprehensive State-run health system for all
  • For-profit medicine should not form part of our health service
  • Those with physical and intellectual disabilities have a right to receive appropriate services.

 There are many practical proposals that can be made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our health system. Good health is not simply a matter of repairing bits of us that have ceased to function. Good health is about a fair and just society, where all citizens can live with dignity and respect and where the environment is diverse and clean. Health therefore is a social project not simply a service or business.  

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