Campaign for an all-Ireland health service

The campaign for an all-Ireland public health service, fully funded and free at the point of entry, is gaining momentum around the country. Already three district councils in the North have supported the demand: Derry City and Strabane, Mid-Ulster, and Fermanagh and Omagh. It was narrowly defeated in Belfast City Council by the casting vote of the DUP chairperson.

As we go to press the following motion has been passed by Dublin City Council and a similar one by Sligo County Council.

The COVID-19 crisis presents an unprecedented threat to the public health of the people of Dublin. The members acknowledge and appreciate the tremendous efforts made by the Council to engage with, support and work with the Dublin City community through a variety of community initiatives undertaken by the Council at the start of the pandemic.

The scale of the crisis clearly demonstrates the critical role of a fully funded and protected public health service. This Council agrees that two divergent public health strategies to deal with a pandemic on the island of Ireland, North and South, is irrational, impractical and dangerous. Council calls for a fully integrated all-Ireland public health strategy. Council supports the campaign for an all-Ireland health service free at the point of delivery from the cradle to the grave. Further, this Council agrees to invite representatives from the All-Ireland Health Service campaign to make a presentation to Council.

The position document of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, “No Going Back: A New Deal towards a Safe and Secure Future for All,” sets out its post-pandemic aims as “a public healthcare system free at the point of use, an integrated properly funded health and social care system with a proactive system of public health.”

It goes on to state:

  1. This pandemic has shown that the public Healthcare system is singularly the delivery model of choice when the universal human right of people to healthcare and life itself is threatened.
  2. We must build a universal public Healthcare system free at the point of use funded by taxation across the island of Ireland.
  3. We must also reinvest in publicly provided long-term care and a proactive system of public health.

The ICTU’s position is not a hundred miles from the aims of the Campaign for an All-Ireland National Health Service. Congress should develop its policy further into one of an all-Ireland fully funded health service, free at the point of entry.

Trade unions need to become radical or they will become redundant.

As it stands, there are major areas of co-operation between the NHS in the North and the HSE in the South.

Radiotherapy services at the North-West Cancer Centre

People from both sides of the border are treated at the North-West Cancer Centre in Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry. Cancer patients from Co. Donegal have been able to avail of radiotherapy services here since November 2016. Almost four hundred people from the South have received their radiotherapy treatment at Altnagelvin.

Cross-border percutaneous coronary intervention services

The primary percutaneous coronary intervention services have been operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from May 2016. A cross-border policy on level of service was agreed by the Western Health and Social Care Trust and Saolta University Health Care Group. On average, seventy patients a year from Co. Donegal benefit from this life-saving care at Altnagelvin Hospital.

All-Ireland paediatric cardiology services

This nationwide cardiology service is available at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, Dublin, established under a bilateral ministerial arrangement.

Human Milk Bank

Since reopening in December 2018, the Human Milk Bank has processed approximately 570 litres of donor-expressed milk, providing approximately 510 litres of breast milk to twenty-seven neonatal units in hospitals around Ireland, helping 278 babies.

Co-operation and Working Together (CAWT)

This is a partnership between the health and social care services in the North and the South of Ireland, which has facilitated cross-border collaborative working in health and social care for more than twenty-five years, supported by financial and personnel resources from the HSE.

The campaign for an all-Ireland health service is lobbying for the developing of existing cross-border co-operation into a unified public health service throughout the country. The NHS, as it exists in the North, has been eroded through years of underfunding, cuts, and privatisation; nevertheless the template remains as a model to be built on, on the principle of health services free at the point of provision, from the cradle to the grave.

The campaign seeks to develop an all-Ireland public health service that is financed from general taxation and under public control. Now is a unique moment to make this possible.

The Campaign for an All-Ireland National Health Service is based on the following principles:

  1. Private hospitals requisitioned at the beginning of the covid-19 crisis to be nationalised.
  2. Private practice and fees excluded from public hospitals.
  3. Permanent public-sector-only contracts offered to new consultants.
  4. Public ownership and control of voluntary hospitals, including the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin.
  5. Reward payments and enhanced career structure for nurses and other health workers, north and south.
  6. Publicly funded primary care that includes mental health support, physiotherapy, speech therapy, etc.
  7. An integrated all-Ireland health and social care service.
  8. A publicly established system to regulate access to and pricing of medicines throughout the country.

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